Rare Portrait of Eleonora Orsini Sforza attributed to Pietro Fachetti 1605-1610

Rare Portrait of Eleonora Orsini Sforza attributed to Pietro Fachetti 1605-1610 This is a very rare portrait of a well-known Italian woman, from one of the most powerful families. The following is research by Dr Barbara Furlotti of The Courtauld Institute. Pietro Fachetti (?), Portrait of Eleonora Orsini Sforza, c. 1605-1610, oil on canvas, 115 cm x 89 cm. Private Collection, U.K. The painting under consideration represents a woman standing beside a small table covered with a velvet cloth (fig. 1). She leans her left hand on the table, while holding a fan in her right hand. Her luxury clothes (a silver silk dress embroidered in gold and a black gown with an elegant pattern in the same colour, both embellished by laces) and her precious jewels (a long pearl necklace matched by two magnificent pearl earrings) attest that she belongs to a prestigious family. This assumption is confirmed by the inscription which appears in the upper left corner of the painting, according to which the sitter is Eleonora Orsini Sforza, Duchess of Segni and Countess of Santa Fiora (‘D[onn]a Leonora Orsina Isforzza’). As this report will show, comparisons with other portraits of Eleonora Orsini confirm that the identification of the inscription is correct. — More Information

Item Ref: 180001

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The Sitter: Eleonora Orsini Sforza (Florence, 1571 – Rome, 1634)
Eleonora Orsini Sforza was born in Florence on 1st March 1571. Her mother was Isabella de’ Medici, daughter of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence, while her father was Paolo Giordano I Orsini, Duke of Bracciano and the head of one of the most ancient and powerful Roman baronial families. As Isabella never moved to Rome after her marriage with Paolo Giordano, both Eleonora and her brother Virginio, born on 11th September 1572, lived in Florence with their mother. After Isabella died in 1575, allegedly murdered by her husband, Eleonora and Virginio continued to live in Florence, where they were brought up with the other Medici scions. Among them, Eleonora seems to have been particularly attached to Maria de’ Medici, future Queen of France, who was only two years younger than her.
In Florence, the Orsini princess was educated according to the high cultural standards of the Medici court. From an early age, she showed a particular inclination for the arts. She is known to be the author of at least one musical composition and, like her mother and many other noblewomen of her time, during her life she promoted concerts and fostered the careers of singers and musicians. On the occasion of one of her trips to Rome in 1588, for instance, she organized with her cousin Maria de’ Medici a musical ensemble of women singers on the model of the famous ensemble of the women of Ferrara. Several archival references record that Eleonora also dabbled in painting, another creative activity in which, like music, aristocrats of the time were frequently trained. Letters exchanged between her and her brother Virginio attest that, beside frequently presenting her with jewels, books, and furniture for her rooms, Virginio also gave her objects related to her passion for art making, such as a copperplate ‘for drawing’ in November 1581. Before 1587, Eleonora attended drawing lessons with Maria de’ Medici under the guidance of Jacopo Ligozzi, who was the Medici court painter at the time. By 1589, she must have become rather skilled, as in that year she gave Pope Sixtus V a painting representing Saint Francis, which was said to be ‘of marvellous beauty’.
It was only in 1592, at the age of 21, that Eleonora definitively left Florence for Rome, where she married Alessandro Sforza, Duke of Segni and Count of Santa Fiora. The marriage quickly turned out to be unhappy because of Alessandro Sforza’s jealousy and violent attitude. As a consequence, Eleonora escaped from home on several occasions, fearing for her life.