Friday, March 29, 2013

Leave Lucrezia Panciatichi Alone!

Have a look at the portrait to the right. If you are into horror, history or just plain weirdness, you may recognize her as Elizabeth Báthory, the "Blood Countess," who reportedly had hundreds of virgins slain so she could bathe in their blood and retain her youthful appearance. Someone's clever caption certainly supports that identification.

But this is not Elizabeth Báthory. The mesmerizing young lady is actually Lucrezia Panciatichi, a woman who lived in Florence at the height of the Italian Renaissance. The painting is by Agnolo di Cosimo, commonly called Il Bronzino or just Bronzino.

So why do so many believe this is a portrait of the Blood Countess? Well, once again the internet seems to have gotten something wrong. I don't know who started it, but do a Google image search for "Elizabeth Báthory" and this image is the first on the page. You will find it repeated over and over again as you scroll down.

Granted, one would probably not question the misattribution if one saw it, so does it really matter? Absolutely it does. Like anything else, our cultural legacy depends not only on transmitting information but transmitting the correct information. And to do that, one cannot simply accept the information one is given; too many arguments, misunderstandings and just plain stupidity have resulted from people believing things that are not true, and had they done a little research the entire mess could have been avoided.

I will acknowledge paintings are hard to check for veracity. If someone misattributes a painting, how do you know? You can't very well type a description of a painting into Google and get reliable results. But so much other information about society, science and history can be easily discovered with a little finger-work. Next time do the finger-work, and leave Lucrezia Panciatichi alone.

Edit: If you're a nerd like me and are into not only Renaissance art but also 19th Century literature, this portrait gets a mention in The Wings of the Dove by Henry James. The main character is said to have a striking resemblance to the woman in the portrait.


  1. I find this really interesting.

    If poor Lucrezia can see this she must feel happy that someone finally decided to clear her face.

  2. It's funny. Now, I sew a film with Julie Delpy, a french actor, and I've an illumination : this actress look like this portrait of Bronzino. ...And she's realisator and main caracter of "The countess" who describe the live and rumors about the bloody countess. Perhaps I'm not the only one which make this relation.