The fascinating life stories of unknown women from famous artworks

Inspiration | Dec. 09, 2017

Unless you are an art critic, you may only be able to identify the artist responsible for a particular painting. But how much do you know about the very people portrayed in these outstanding works?

We here at Bright Side decided to tell you about the women whose faces are so familiar, but whose life stories are unknown to us.

Jeanne Samary

Auguste Renoir, ’’Portrait of the actress Jeanne Samary’’ (1877)

The actress Jeanne Samary didn’t succeed much in the theatre industry (she played mostly maids), but she was lucky enough to live not far from Renoir’s studio for some time. The great artist portrayed Jeanne four times between 1877 and 1878, and these paintings made her famous. Jeanne was just 18 when she began to take part in theatre performances. She got married at the age of 25, gave birth to three children and even wrote a children’s book. Unfortunately, the life of this charming lady was not long; Samary died of typhoid fever when she was just 33.

Cecilia GalleraniLeonardo da Vinci, ’’Lady with an Ermine’’(1489-1490)

Cecilia Gallerani came from a noble Italian family and was betrothed at the age of 10. But when the girl turned 14, the engagement was broken off for unknown reasons. After that, Cecilia left home for the convent, where she met Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan. The affair between Cecilia and Ludovico resulted in pregnancy. Sforza took his mistress to his castle and Cecilia stayed there until the Duke married another woman from a noble family. The child was raised in Ludovico’s castle while Cecilia became the wife of an impoverished count.

She bore her husband four children, organized one of the most glittering literary salons in Europe, was a welcome guest at the Duke’s castle and had fun playing with Ludovico’s child born by his new mistress. After the death of her husband, during the war, Cecilia lost almost all her fortune and found refuge in the house of the Duke’s wife. When the war ended, Gallani returned to her mansion and lived there until her death at age 63.

Simonetta VespucciSandro Botticelli, ’’The Birth of Venus’’(1482–1486)

Simonetta Vespucci — the most beautiful woman of Florence, and thus, of the Renaissance as a whole — is portrayed in the most famous of Botticelli’s paintings. Simonetta was born in a rich family and at the age of 16 was married to Marco Vespucci (a distant relative of Amerigo Vespucci, who discovered America). After the wedding, Simonetta and Marco settled in Florence. Soon, the couple won the favor of Lorenzo de Medici, who held magnificent festivals, balls, and tournaments.

Her beauty, modesty and grace captured the hearts of more than one man. Lots of noblemen, including a Florence ruler, admired Simonetta, but Lorenzo’s brother Giuliano was perhaps her most passionate suitor. Her stunning beauty inspired Sandro Botticelli and many other artists of the time. It is believed that, after meeting her, the great master painted no one else except Simonetta. She served as a model for all of Botticelli’s Madonnas and Venuses. Simonetta died of consumption at the age of twenty-three, despite doctors’ best efforts to save her. Even after her death, Botticelli didn’t forget his muse, using her image in his works for the rest of his life. He even expressed the desire to be buried next to Simonetta’s grave.

Lisa del GiocondoLeonardo da Vinci, ’’Mona Lisa’’

(1503–1519)

Perhaps everyone has seen this famous painting at least once in their life. Lots of historians and art critics argued for centuries over who Mona Lisa really was. The mystery was solved in 2005 when the official announcement came from researchers. The painting depicts the wife of wealthy Florentine silk merchant Francesco del Giocondo. According to one version, Francesco commissioned the portrait to celebrate the birth of their son and the purchase of a house.

Lisa gave birth to 5 children, and most likely, the couple lived happily together. Francesco died of the plague. Lisa was also diagnosed with the same disease but recovered with the help of her daughter. In her last years, Lisa lived with her daughters and died at the age of 63.

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