This is the letter I got back inquiring about the coif on
Kathryn Price <kprice@...
> wrote:Subject: Ghirlandaio's Portrait of a Lady
Date: Thu, 27 Feb 2003 15:55:25 -0500
From: "Kathryn Price"
CC: "Mary Leitch"
Dear Ms. Bombard,
Thank you for your recent inquiry to the Clark Art Institute.
It seems quite difficult to tell from the painting alone whether or not the coif was embroidered or made of a brocade or damask. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a literary reference from the early 16th century (a little later than the painting, but not terribly distant) to such a headdress worn by married women in Italy. Ghirlandaio's depiction of the woman in Portrait of a Lady may be similar to this, as the portrait is believed to be of Giovanna degli Albizzi shortly before her wedding. An allusion to her soon-to-be-married status through the inclusion of the coif falls in line with artistic conventions of the time. In the literary reference, the coif is described as a "fine linen" decorated with "gold thread." From these clues, I would guess that it was probably embroidered.
There is a large color reproduction of the painting in The Clark: Selections from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute on page 23. There is no detail of the headdress, but the image might be helpful nonetheless. Jean K. Cadogan's Domenico Ghirlandaio: Artist and Artisan has hundreds of reproductions of Ghirlandaio paintings and drawings that might be useful (though not Portrait of a Lady). You might also want to look at James H. Beck's Italian Renaissance Painting. In the section on Ghirlandaio, particularly pages 304-305, there are other reproductions of paintings with women wearing similar headdresses.
Best of luck on your project, and thank you again for your interest in the Clark.
Kimberly A. Conaty
Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute
225 South Street
Williamstown, MA 01267
Tel.: 413.458.2303, ext. 222
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