Friday, July 24th, 2009
Portraits of Mariana Alcoforado
I have been reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun, a collection of 17th century letters that purportedly were written by a Portuguese nun to a French army officer. These letters were published and republished many times in the 17th and 18th centuries; they were very popular because of their alleged authenticity. It was thought that the letters were written by the nun Mariana Alcoforado to her lover Noel Bouton, the Marquis de Chamilly. Since the 20th century, however, the authenticity of the letters has been debated (although Miriam Cyr recently wrote a book arguing that Mariana is the author – you should look at this entertaining customer review that proclaims Simon Schama’s affinity for Cyr’s book.).
Anyhow, I was surprised to learn that Mariana inspired a handful of 20th century artists. Modigliani and Matisse each created portraits of Mariana (even though it isn’t known what Mariana looked like). Matisse even illustrated a 1946 publication of Lettres d’une religieuse portugaise (Letters of a Portuguese Nun). Here’s some of their portraits of the enigmatic Mariana:
Matisse, Mariana Alcoforado, 1946
This went on sale at Christie’s this week. See the lot description here.