Elisabetta Gonzaga was one of the most important figures in the cultural life of that time. Lover of art and literature, the protagonist in the “The Book of the Courtier” by Baldassare Castiglione, where she is the personification of grace, a highly valued quality in the perfect lady of the court.
She was the wife of the Duke of Urbino – Guidobaldo da Montefeltro.
In the painting she is shown to under her chest, the arms are left out so that the focus is placed on the shoulders and her face is placed strictly head-on.
In the background we see a light airy Umbrian landscape with hills and dotted trees under a high mountain.
The Duchess is dressed in a black gamurra dress decorated with gold and silver rectangles inspired by the heraldic colors of the Montefeltro family.
The neckline is lined with a ribbon decorated with gold letters in Kufic style, and around the neck she wears two gold necklaces.
On the forehead there is an ornament in the shape of a scorpion which carries a precious stone.
Sometimes this type of jewelry was interpreted as a symbol of love, but it can also refer to Scorpio as a zodiac sign associated with fertility, wherewith it represents an amulet for happiness, having in mind that Elisabetta and her husband could not have children (this is the reason why Elisabetta cared so gently for Raffaello).
The refined painting technique, the pronounced contrast between the dark dress and the pale skin tones, together with the painstaking attention paid to every detail, reminds us of the Flemish painters whose works Raffaello had the opportunity to see during his stay in the court of the Duke of Urbino, especially the paintings by Justus van Gent and Pedro Berruguete. One can sense his desire to paint the portrait more authentic and exciting so that the observer can experience the true expression of Elisabetta’s noble gaze.
She was at the age of thirty three when the portrait was made between 1504 -1505.
The original work is on display in Uffizi, Florence.