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Francesco Hayez
Portrait of the singer Matilde Juva Branca
1851

Oil on canvas, cm 120 x 94,5

The austere, enigmatic look captured by Francesco Hayez is that of the opera singer Matilde Branca, whose married name was Juva, a leading personality in her father Paolo Branca's salon with her sisters Luigia (mezzo-soprano), Emilia (harpist) and Cirilla (pianist), a celebrated place of art and intellectuals that the famous opera composer Gaetano Donizetti referred to as a "temple of music".
While her singing talents won over the renowned Gioacchino Rossini, the beauty of the portrait filled the intellectual Andrea Maffei with enthusiasm. In 1858  he wrote: "When I admired thee / in gorgeous art impressed / As though by pool or mirror expressed // I begged the years n'er to pass thee by / And in the wings of time you to rest. / Angelic beauty thou shalt never die."
The work was commissioned byy her husband Giovanni Juva as a companion piece for his portrait, painted that year by Mauro Conconi, one of Hayez's pupils. Now in the GAM collection, it's considered as a stunning masterpiece of Lombard portrait painting for its meticulous psychological insight and perfect formal rendering, which takes up the tradition of sixteenth-century Venetian portraiture.
The posture of the figure, in three-quarter view with the arm resting on the chair, on which a ermine mantle has been placed, creates a succession of planes, opening up the space of the painting. The austere figure of the woman appears at the centre in a precious black silk dress, with intricate crinolines forming a contrast around her face and hands. And indeed her hand, holding the glove in the foreground, is manifest tribute by Hayez to Titian and a clear reference to the "Man with a glove" (Paris, Louvre) and the "Portrait of a young Englishman" (Florence, Galleria Palatina).