Two Women, Two European Portraits in the Collection of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo

Maria Angélica Beghini Morales, a doctoral student (University of São Paulo – Social and Cultural History), mainly researches the relationship between art and society, cultural heritage and collecting in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The subjects covered here are part of her current research. Today she is the manager of the Research Center at the São Paulo Immigration Museum, researching and curating the museum’s collection. She holds a Master’s degree (USP, 2015) and also the title of Specialist in Management and Cultural Policies (University of Girona, 2019).


Among the numerous portraits in the collection of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand (MASP), two paintings stand out in light of female representation in the European art collection of the eighteenth century. Alongside allegories, landscapes, historical, mythological scenes and male figures, we find the portrait of Elisabeth-Sophie-Constance de Lowendahl, countess of Turpin de Crissé, painted between 1775 and 1785 by Jean Honoré Fragonard, and a self-portrait by Leonor de Almeida Portugal, also known as the Marquesa de Alorna or Alcipe, painted between 1787 and 1790. Both were acquired in the span of just a decade (1958 and 1949, respectively) – a period of initial consolidation of the MASP collection. The brief time between the dating of the paintings draws our attention to connections between the two portraits. For instance, both display a similar emphasis on portraying real female figures. When investigating the biography of these figures, we find more possible dialogues: Leonor and Elisabeth-Constance seem to have played an active role in the establishment of a literate female society in the second half of the eighteenth century – both in Portugal and in France.

In France, a mondain atmosphere was formed mostly by the haute bourgeoisie and the liberal nobility, a space which was frequented by both sexes.[1] The proliferation of Enlightenment thought found expression in the Salons – spaces for discussion led by women, who played a role well beyond the hostess and exercised an effective, albeit veiled, influence over the cultural and intellectual ideas of their time. According to Elizabeth Badinter, a new generation of intellectual men frequented these new salons because the old social spaces, aristocratic par excellence, did not offer them much longed-for independence and prestige. Thus, with the active participation of women, many men and their projects rose to prominence in the Enlightenment period. [2]

In Portugal, the second half of the eighteenth century marked a profound social transformation that involved women, whose literary and artistic sociability played a fundamental role in that agitated context. In the first half of the century, a normative Christian lifestyle imposed the religious cloister or a domestic confinement on most women, who were perceived as dangerous and intellectually incapable. However, in the following decades they seem to have been guided by “this yearning for joy, for expansiveness, linked to the new dignity of man and the value of his spirit, to the anthropocentrism characteristic of eighteenth-century thinkers, interrelated with the new socioeconomic conditions that allowed the rise of an open and innovative bourgeoisie”. [3] The new social life that emerged was pursued intensely by women from a new form of sociability between both sexes. The vogue of the Assembleias – meetings in private homes, open to friends for chatting, singing, playing, discussing lyrics and poetry – is an example of this urban enthusiasm where, as in French Salons, women had their space of agency. [4]

J. H. Fragonard is an artist who explicitly takes part in a dialogue with a feminine universe in his works, in a peculiar fashion: there, the woman is not treated as a mere object of desire, but as “sujet-desir”. [5] The woman in the portrait, Elizabeth-Marie-Constance de Lowendahl (1742-1785), was the wife of the military writer Lancelot Turpin and mother of the painter Théodore Turpin de Crisée. Her agency seems to be related to the Parisian literate and cultural circle; in current research, we have determined a very close relationship between the countess and figures such as the Abbé de Voisenon, an important homme de lettres (and also a libertine writer), the librettist Nicolas-François Guillard and the playwright Charles-Simon Favart, in addition to painters and illustrators – including Fragonard himself – who visited her home.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Portrait of Elisabeth-Sophie-Constance de Lowendahl, countess of Turpin de Crissé, (1775-1785). Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand.

Alcipe, Marquesa de Alorna, was a member of Lisbon’s high society, and spent part of her childhood and adolescence cloistered with her mother and sister in a convent in Chelas, due to political conflicts led by her father. Her poetic talent was already recognized throughout Lisbon during her seclusion; there, she received and exchanged letters and poems with writers, men and women of letters. Her link with Portuguese literary society is evident – however, more historiographical approaches are needed to understand her agency not only in this literary circle, but also in the spheres of power, as well as her influence on the cultural zeitgeist.[6]  Her relationship with painting, on the other hand, is a subject that is currently under investigation and which will reward further research.

Leonor de Almeida Portugal, Marquesa de Alorna. Self-Portrait (1787-1790). Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand

The strength of female influence in the second half of the eighteenth century has been widely discussed in recent criticism and is exemplified by the trajectory of these two women. Yet, we are still exploring the traces left behind by these two works of art and seeking to understand both the reasons for and the repercussions of their presence in the Brazilian collection of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo.

[1] Jean Haechler. Le règne des femmes – 1715-1793 (Paris: Bernand Grasset, 2001).

[2] [Translated by author] Elisabeth Badinter. As paixões intelectuais – desejo de glória (R.J: Civilização Brasileira, 2007)

[3] Maria Antónia Lopes. Mulheres, espaço e sociabilidade. A transformação dos papeis femininos em Portugal à luz de fontes literárias – segunda metade do século XVIII. (Lisboa: Livros Horizontes, 1989), 66.

[4] Maria Alexandre Lousada. “Sociabilidades mundanas em Lisboa – Partidas e Assembleias, c.1760-1834”, Penélope, 19-20 (1998): 129-60.

[5] Mary D. Sheriff. Fragonard Amoureux: galant et libertin. (Paris: Flammarion, 2015).

[6] Aníbal Pinto de Castro et al. Alcipe e as Luzes. (Lisboa: Edições Colibri/Fundação das Casas de Fronteira e Alorna, 2003); José Esteves Pereira et al. Alcipe e sua época. (Lisboa: Edições Colibri/Fundação das Casas de Fronteira e Alorna, 2003); Joana Junqueira Borges. “A mulher e a crítica: aspectos e questões na fortuna crítica da Marquesa de Alorna”, Revista Desassossego, 18 (dez.2017): 42-62; Teresa de Sousa Almeida. “Marquesa de Alorna” in: Álvaro Manuel Machado. Dicionário de Literatura Portuguesa. (Lisboa: Presença, 1996): 27-28.


Bibliography

Badinter, Elisabeth. As paixões intelectuais – desejo de glória. Translated by Clóvis Marques. Rio de Janeiro: Civilização Brasileira, 2007. 

Haechler, Jean. Le règne des femmes – 1715-1793. Paris: Bernand Grasset, 2001.

Leme, Mariana; Pedrosa, Adriano, Rjeille, Isabella (Org.) História das Mulheres, Histórias Feministas. Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand, São Paulo, 2019.

Lopes, Maria Antónia. Mulheres, espaço e sociabilidade. A transformação dos papeis femininos em Portugal à luz de fontes literárias – segunda metade do século XVIII. Lisboa: Livros Horizontes, 1989.

Maria Alexandre Lousada. “Sociabilidades mundanas em Lisboa – Partidas e Assembleias, c.1760-1834”, Penélope, 19-20 (1998): 129-60.

Sheriff, Mary D. Fragonard Amoureux: galant et libertin. Paris: Flammarion, 2015.

Sousa, Maria Leonor Machado; Hhrardt, Mariana Pereira; Pereira, José Esteves (Org.)  Alcipe e sua época. Lisboa: Edições Colibri/Fundação das Casas de Fronteira e Alorna, 2003.

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