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Artist: Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg
[Danish painter, 1783-1853]

Title: Portrait of Anna Maria Magnani

Date: 1814
Medium: oil on canvas
Dimensions: 12 x 9 inches (31 x 22 cm)
Location: Den Hirschsprungske Samling, Copenhagen, Denmark

Image size: 1576 x 2269 pixels, 436 Kbytes
Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg: Portrait of Anna Maria Magnani

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This is a striking painting, despite the act that the subject is no great beauty and her outfit is rather drippy to modern eyes. But there's something else off-kilter about it... It took me a while to notice, but the pupil of her left eye appears to be drifting almost all the way over to the side.

I looked up Anna Maria Magnani to see if there was any information about her online. It turns out she was Bertel Thorvaldsen's mistress for many years and bore him two children.

No news about possible eye problems, but I found a marvelously Victorian description of her and of her relationship with Thorvaldsen:

... Anna Maria Magnani was lady's maid and governess in the Zoega household. She was a beautiful animal: dark, luminous, flashing eyes, hair black as the raven's wing, and a form that palpitated with passion -- a true daughter of the warm, sun-kissed South.

The young sculptor of the yellow locks danced with the signorina at the rustic fetes upon the lawn. She spoke no Danish, and his Italian was exceedingly limited, but hand pressed hand and they contrived to make themselves understood. She volunteered to give him lessons in Italian; this went well, and then she posed for him as a model.

What should have been at best or worst a mere incident in the artist's life ripened into something more. Intellectually and spiritually they lived in different worlds, and in sober moments both realized it. An arrangement was entered into of the same quality and kind as Goethe and Christine Vulpius assumed. Only this woman had moments of rebellion when she thirsted for social honors. As his wife, Thorwaldsen knew that she would be a veritable dead-weight, and he sought to loosen her grasp upon him. An offer of marriage came to her from a man of means and social station. Thorwaldsen favored the mating, and did what he could to hasten the nuptials. But when the other man had actually married the girl and carried her away, he had a sick spell to pay for it -- he wasn't quite so calloused in heart as he had believed. Like many other men, Thorwaldsen found that such a tie is not easily broken.

Anna Maria thought she loved the man she had married, and at least she believed she could learn to do so. Alas! after six months of married life she packed up and came back to Rome, declaring that, though her husband was kind and always treated her well, she would rather be the slave and servant of Thorwaldsen than the wife of any man on earth. The sculptor hadn't the heart to turn her away. More properly, her will was stronger than his conscience. Perhaps he was glad, too, that she had come back! The injured husband followed, and Anna Maria warned the man to be gone, and emphasized the suggestion with the gleam of a pearl-handled stiletto; and by the same token kept all gushing females away from the Thorwaldsen preserve.

-- Elbert Hubbard: Little Journeys To The Homes Of Eminent Artists (1902)

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