Early 16th Century, Brabant?, Portrait Bust of Margaret of Austria in Prayer, Limestone, 57 cm H
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This exceptional portrait bust shows Archduchess Marguerite of Austria, Dowager-Duchess of Savoye in prayer. It is one of the very rare portraits in which the governor of the Netherlands is represented with long, loose locks. Only two artworks showing her without headgear and her hair hanging loose are known today. The first is a medal with her portrait bust and the inscription ‘MARGARITA CAESARIS MAXIMILIANI FILIA’ (‘Marguerite, daughter of Emperor Maximilian’). The object which is kept in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna probably dates from after 1508. The second, a far more important example, is one of the two gisants or tomb effigies of the deceased Marguerite of Austria, made by her court sculptor, Conrad Meit (Worms, 1485-Antwerp, 1550/’51) and his assistants. Marguerite’s splendour tomb, made of Carrara marble, is erected in the church of Saint Nicholas of Tolentino, which is part of the monastery complex of Brou in Bourg-en-Bresse (France).
The gisant of Marguerite with long, curly hair is reminiscent of the renditions of Mary Magdalene. This wink was not accidental. Both characters were a model of penance, but there was more to it. Saint Mary Magdalene was deployed on the political chessboard. A chronicle of the history of Burgundy was commissioned during the 1480s, presumably by Marguerite’s father, Maximilian. The book claims that the ancient Frankish rulers of Burgundy had been converted to Christianity by none other than Mary Magdalene. In other words, she was staged to legitimize the rule of the Burgundians. The Archduchess had a copy of this chronicle and possessed several artworks portraying Mary Magdalene. The stone portrait bust was probably made after the death of Marguerite of Austria. She has more of the features of a fifty-year-old. It is undoubtedly also true that a lot was politically at stake after the death of a governor. A parallel between Marguerite and Mary Magdalene would fit in such a context.