chapter  7
24 Pages

Giving Birth at the Habsburg Court: Visual and Material Culture

One of the most beautiful pieces of jewelry now in the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore was fashioned in Italy in the mid-sixteenth century. In the shape of a marten’s head (Figure 7.1), it is nearly identical to the piece seen in Portrait of Countess Livia da Porto Thiene and her Daughter Porzia, painted by Paolo Veronese circa 1551, which hangs in the same museum.2 The painting shows Livia and her daughter Porzia when Livia was pregnant. Livia carries a marten fur over her right arm; the fur touches a gold chain hanging from her waist, on the end of which is a golden marten’s head. The piece has considerable symbolic importance regarding women’s maternal role throughout the early modern period, since the marten represented fertility, as I will elucidate further. At this time, jewels like these were considered especially suitable for pregnant women or potential mothers and often were incorporated into portraits of royal and noble women to draw attention to their reproductive role.3