Circle of Francois Clouet
1522 – 1572
FIGLETTA FIAMMINGA, the little Flemish Daughter; a Portrait of a young Girl wearing an elegant Pearl-embroidered Dress and Headdress
François (or Francis) Clouet was a pupil of his father, Jean Clouet (1485–1540/1541), who worked as court portraitist to King François I. François Clouet first appears in the royal account books in 1540s as “paintre et varlet de chambre.” Praising both artists the King stated that the son imitated the father very well. Indeed, it is not always easy to distinguish between the two; in his 1971 monograph on Jean Clouet, Peter Mellen writes that certain drawings from around 1540 might be assigned to father or son. This is exacerbated by the fact that they very rarely signed their works.
While the combination of Netherlandish and Italian influences seen in François’ work can already be seen in that of Jean, there are additional influences from Bronzino, Salviati, and Titian, as well as from the indigenous School of Fontainebleau.
Throughout his life, François Clouet was painter and valet de chambre to four successive French monarchs: François I (r. 1515–1547), Henri II (r. 1547–1559), François II (r. 1559–1560), and Charles IX (r. 1560–1574). The artist is known to have made his will on September 21, 1572. He died the following day.
The little Flemish daughter is dressed in such a way as to demonstrate her high social status. She wears a sumptuous puff-sleeved ensemble in white silk embroidered in an elaborate pattern with gold braid and gold buttons set with pearls. Around her upright lace collar is a matching gold necklace adorned with groups of smaller pearls and her auburn hair is tied back with a headdress (French hood) of gold mesh interwoven with pearls. The girl’s cinched-in waist is further accentuated by a long gold chain.
Basing our assumptions on the inscription, the comparison of physical likenesses in portraiture contemporary with ours, and the fact that our sitter is dressed in a Spanish-style ‘Ropa’, we venture a guess as to the girl’s identity, namely that of Margaret of Austria, later Duchess of Parma (1522–1586), illegitimate daughter of Charles I of Spain aka Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500–1556) and Johanna van der Gheynst (1505–1541).
Margaret’s Flemish mother, the famously beautiful Johanna van der Gheynst, was in the employment of Charles I de Lalaing, Governor of Oudenaarde and Seigneur de Montigny, when King Charles I of Spain visited the castle in the autumn of 1521 in his dual role as Charles V, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. Their ensuing liaison resulted in the birth of a daughter in 1522. Charles, aged 22 at the time, accepted his paternal responsibility. Whilst her mother received a modest pension, the infant Margaret was sent first to the De Douvrin family and since to the Savoy Palace in Mechelen, where she was left in the care of her great-aunt, Archduchess Margaret of Austria (after whom she was named) and her aunt Mary of Austria. Both women successively acted as governors of the Netherlands.
Using his daughter as a political pawn to gain influence in Italy, Charles had her engaged at the age of 5 to Alessandro de’ Medici, Duke of Florence. It seems plausible that our painting, depicting a beautiful young girl of about 5 majestically dressed in virginal white, was sent to Florence by her father to offer her hand in marriage. Interestingly, it was not until July 1529, when the marriage agreement had been signed by himself and Alessandro’s uncle, Pope Clement VII, that he officially declared Margaret his daughter.
In 1533 the 11 year-old Princess went to live and be educated at the courts in Florence, Rome and Parma, respectively. Margaret and Alessandro were married in Florence on 13 June 1536. Tragically, her groom was murdered in January 1537, only 7 months later, rendering Margaret a widow at the age of 15.
Soon Margaret was being touted in another shrewd political move by her father, this time to Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, whom she subsequently married in 1536. As Duchess of Parma she settled with him
in Rome, giving birth to twin sons, one of whom died in infancy. Their marriage does not appear to have been a happy one, partly because of ongoing tensions between Pope Paul III (Ottavio’s grandfather) and Margaret’s own father over rulership of Parma, a situation which eventually evolved into warfare.
By 1555, Margaret had been forced to leave her surviving son Alessandro in the care of her half- brother Philip (later King Philip II of Spain) in the Spanish Netherlands for their father to formally acknowledge Ottavio as ruler of Parma. She, too, settled in the Netherlands where she would serve two terms as Governess-General, the first from 1559–1567. A portrait of the Duchess of Parma in the Lobkowicz Palace, Prague, called Circle of François Clouet shares many facial and sartorial features with the girl in our portrait. Of near-identical size to ours, the latter is said to date from 1559–67, placing it within Margaret’s first term as Governor of the Netherlands and after the death of her father, which would account for her black bodice and veil. The Lobkowicz portrait, in turn, shows affinity with Margaret’s portrait painted during the same period by Anthonis Mor (WGA16182).
Her second term in office, 1580–1581, was as ruler in conjunction with Philip II. The cooperation between the two half-siblings proved unsuccessful: Margaret resigned her post as co-governor, and the following year Philip gave her permission to return to Italy.
Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Austria died in Ortona in 1586 and was buried in the church of S. Sisto in Piacenza.
Private collection, Italy, acquired by 1840,
Private collection, Rome, by descent from the above,
Private collection, acquired from the above, 1923,
By family descent to the previous owner.