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Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Her Sister, the Duchess of Villars

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

French painting

Pomarède Vincent

The candid gesture may be an allusion to Gabrielle's pregnancy and the birth in 1594 of César de Vendôme, the illegitimate son of Henry IV.

Italian influence

Although very much in the style of the second school of Fontainebleau, this work remains anonymous. It shows the influence of Italian Renaissance art in the sensual contours of the bodies of the two young women, but also contains references to Flemish art, such as the intimacy of the background scene.

The trompe-l'oeil technique

The artist has made skillful use of the trompe-l'oeil technique, using an imitative, realistic style for on the sheet in the bath and the two curtains framing the scene. The trompe-l'oeil effect is accentuated by the view of what is taking place in the background room. Richly colored, unsettling in its presentation of two women in their bath, and mysterious in its use of symbol - the ring being shown by Gabrielle d'Estrées, for example - the sensuality of the painting made it a popular success. Sensuous yet marvelously delicate, the contours of the two naked bodies are highlighted by the lighting of the two women from the left and the contrast with the shadowy background.

An oddly affectionate gesture

The models have been identified as Gabrielle d'Estrées (1571-99), the favorite of Henry IV (1553-1610), and one of her sisters: the Duchess de Villars or Madame de Balagny. The oddly affectionate way in which the sister is pinching Gabrielle d'Estrées' right breast has often been taken as symbolizing the latter's pregnancy with the illegitimate child of Henry IV. This interpretation would seem to be confirmed by the scene of the young woman sewing - perhaps preparing a layette for the coming child - in the background. The picture was acquired by the Louvre in 1937.

Technical description

  • Fontainebleau school (late 16th century)

    Presumed Portrait of Gabrielle d'Estrées and Her Sister, the Duchess of Villars

    c. 1594

  • H. 0.96 m; W. 1.25 m

  • Acquired in 1937 , 1937

    R.F. 1937-1

  • Paintings

    Richelieu wing
    2nd floor
    The second School of Fontainebleau
    Room 824

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