Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Miss Tyrol Mystery

The Ugly Duchess (Quintin Matsys, 1513)

Frequent mentions and appearances of beautiful women here lead me to attempt to redress the balance.

History gives as the ugliest woman ever Margarete von Görz, countess of Tyrol. She is maybe better known as Margarete Maultasch, which means Pocket-mouth, Bag-mouth. A strong character, she had many troubles, chiefly to do with producing an heir. She was married at twelve to a boy of eight. Dynastic needs eclipsed the lad's capabilities, so without bothering with divorce she married someone else, thereby alienating the lad's family. She defended herself against the charge of bigamy by claiming her first marriage was unconsummated. She was thereupon excommunicated, and it was perhaps at this time, telling everyone what she thought of them, that she earned her nickname.

The Ugly Duchess (Sir John Tenniel, c.1864)

Somehow the portrait up there at the top, the Ugly Duchess, by the Flemish artist Quentin Matsys, has been accepted as her likeness. This portrait appears to have been the model for Sir John Tenniel's Ugly Duchess (above) in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. While Tenniel's gives his Duchess a big mouth, Matsys' version tends towards the rosebud.

But there's something not quite right here. Margarete von Görz died in 1363, aged 51. Matsys painted his portrait in 1513, 150 years after her death. I don't know if Matsys ever claimed it represented Margarete von Görz. (It seems to me to have faint pre-echos of Tony Blair, as caricatured by certain cartoonists.) On the other hand much medical ink has been spilt claiming that what Matsys was illustrating, for reasons that are obscure, was a woman of some distinction, judging by her dress, in the toils of Paget's disease. This is a bone disease causing horrible deformities. Matsys' Duchess has all the symptoms. But why did he paint her?

Here's another (anonymous) portrait of Margarete von Görz, again from the 1500s. History certainly seems to have judged her unfairly. If he'd been around at the time, I'm sure Spadoman, that splendid connoisseur of travel, shadows and comely women, would have leapt to her defence.

Erm, defense.


Vicus Scurra said...


Tim said...

So which one was painted on the Duke of Ferrara's wall, looking as if she were alive? It wasn't Thatcher, she's Bess of Hardwicke.

Christopher said...

Vicus: De mortuis...

Tim: As it happens, the first are you to turn and ask thus.

Spadoman said...

First of all, the criteria I use to judge whether a woman is worthy of any kind of attention is this: Is she breathing?
After that question is answered, one can make assumptions of other desireable traits according to ones own tastes, (or lack thereof, as is in the case of this Margarete character). Although I must say, she looks a lot better in the anonymous portrait than she was depicted as the Ugly Duchess. Of course the artist couldn't really call her ugly without painting her so, could he?
Anyway, I wish I could explain the free flow of wonderful beautiful women that pass through the hallowed pages of Round Circle, but I can't. It may be just to see if you've been there yourself and left a comment.
Thanks again for another marvelous history lesson. Your range of knowledge is much greater than most. I limit mine to the bleeding obvious.

Peace my friend.

Spadoman said...

The thought just occurred to me that maybe I should offer the proposition of a calendar featuring facial shots of some of those aforementioned wonderful beautiful women. I would sell them for charity and advance into a swimsuit issue in the future. I'll not include the Duchess.

More Peace.

Christopher said...

Spadoman, this is great idea and the subjects worthy of pursuit with the greatest energy. But, I ask myself, could twelve pages contain them all? And dare I suggest that you might include some of the lovely ladies that come here, all of whom (as far as I know) are breathing? And especially seeing that Rosie has finally got rid of her red-eye? A page a week would scarcely be enough to contain them...


Z said...

She does look rather older than her years, it must be said.

Dave said...

On the question of women's looks, I sit on de fence.

Christopher said...

I believe this is what her first husband said on their wedding day, Z.

I hope your position isn't due to too much standing on ceremony with the ladies, or indeed to lying on occasion, Dave?

letouttoplay said...

One has to wonder why she wore that hat for her portrait.
It's a marvellous piece of work for a blacksmith anyway.