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You Are What You Wear

How she wished to be seen
<H6>Alexander Roslin<br>Swedish, 1718–98<br><I>The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume</I>, 1763<br>Oil on canvas<br>Minneapolis Institute of Arts<br>The John R. Van Derlip Trust Fund</H6>
Alexander Roslin
Swedish, 1718–98
The Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli in Spanish Costume, 1763
Oil on canvas
Minneapolis Institute of Arts
The John R. Van Derlip Trust Fund


The wealthy Comtesse d’Egmont Pignatelli could afford to sit for a fine portrait by Alexander Roslin, one of Europe’s most famous painters. From life at the royal court of King Louis XV of France, she knew the importance of appearance. Her portrait should highlight her best qualities and draw attention to her accomplishments.

The countess’s glowing gown of white satin has sleeves slashed and woven through with ribbons and pearls, in the Spanish style. It hints at her husband’s connection to the Spanish court and the couple’s habit of entertaining Spanish ambassadors at their home. The countess’s pose was carefully calculated. Since other famous women had been painted reclining in the same manner, it showed that she too was important.

The picture contains clues to the Comtesse d’Egmont’s favorite activities. A talented musician, the countess played the guitar for her Spanish guests. She spent her days studying history and literature and conversing with artists and poets. The book she is holding may be a work by the famous philosopher and writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

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1. The countess wears a raised lace “Medici” collar. It called to mind an earlier French king, Henry IV, and his queen Marie de Médicis.
2. Sheet music and a guitar are tucked beside the countess in her chair. The view of the outdoors recalls her favorite country home.
3. The Comtesse d’Egmont exchanged letters with King Gustav III of Sweden about her efforts to help the writer Jean-Jacques Rosseau. This book may be by Rousseau.


December 2008