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Laura Tarsi, 'a Grecian lady'
Watercolour and bodycolour on ivory
Accepted by Her Majesty's Government in Lieu of Inheritance Tax, from the Estate of the 10th Duke of Rutland, and allocated to the Fitzwilliam Museum, 2006.
Little is known about the sitter in this exquisite miniature beyond her name and nationality. Its provenance has led to the supposition that she was the mistress of John Manners, Marquess of Granby (1721-1770) when both were living in Constantinople in between 1740 and 1741. The fact that Liotard painted three other versions of the portrait suggests that her features were much in demand.
Born to French parents in Geneva, Liotard was an extremely well-travelled artist whose portraits were highly sought-after throughout Europe and beyond. He trained as an enamel painter and miniaturist before continuing his training in Paris, under Jean-Baptiste Massé, miniature painter to Louis XV. In 1735 he travelled to Italy in the retinue of the French Ambassador, and three years later moved to Constantinople, where he established himself in the European community. During his four-year stay there, Liotard famously adopted Ottoman-style costume (for which, as a European, he would have required special dispensation) and grew a long beard. He retained both after leaving Turkey in 1742, and not surprisingly gained renown as the 'Turkish painter' in the many European capitals (including London) where he worked over the following decades. Many of his sitters, male and female, chose to be depicted in similarly exotic costume. Laura Tarsi's outfit epitomises the layered look and richly embroidered fabrics that enjoyed such a vogue among fashionable Europeans.