Identify the level of wealth and social standing of a person (Italian Renaissance era) in this portrait and please explain your reasons.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The background to the left is a portion of a landscape as seen through a spacious window in a marble wall. Directly behind the mother--who is posed in a Madonna position with hands clasped and head slightly bowed for prayer--is a curtain drapery of heavy fabric that might, from the varying patterns of light and shading, be a jacquard cotton satin or a velvet made of cotton, linen or wool.

The clothing is made of relatively modest fabric without embroidery and jeweling, though the seated boy looks like he is wearing silk of a fashionably dark color. The mother looks like she is wearing a kirtle (outer gown) of heavier glossed cotton satin with a sleeve of finely woven but heavy linen showing from her linen chemise underdress.

Three other pieces of fabric indicate elegant and treasured possessions. Her coif is of the finest gossamer silk; you can see through it at her neck, and it reveals her fashionably plucked hairline exposing a high brow (artificially attained). Her couvrechef is of a very fine weave of linen; the drapes and natural folds can be seen in it. The black drapes the boy is sitting on and that she is standing by are colored by Spanish black dye and probably made of glossed cotton satin, which, like jacquard, is a complicated weave. The boy standing has coarse features, is wearing homespun linen and has no head covering, while the boy sitting has a fashionable embroidered cap, a necklace and is holding a small leather bound Bible and is wearing leather shoes.

The social level of this family is middle class; probably that of a successful and wealthy merchant or tradesman. He has wealth to buy luxuries with, but each is a prized treasure and not a commonplace. The boy seated is probably completing his first religious rite and the painting is commissioned to celebrate his success. The standing boy is their servant and his presence indicates that they are not common peasants as much as his presence indicates that he is a common peasant and a servant for their son.