Johann Heinrich Hasselhorst took a keen interest in the lives of ordinary people while travelling through Italy between 1855 and 1860. He therefore produced not just landscape studies, but also numerous studies of women. In this painting, which was almost certainly executed after his return, he adopts a mode of representation that in the mid-nineteenth century was standard for a certain type of woman and can be found in paintings by the Nazarenes, too. The northern Europeans who visited Italy in those days, most of whom were men, imagined Italian women to possess not just beauty but also a femininity unspoiled by civilization, onto which they could project their own longings.1 What Hasselhorst foregrounds in this work, however, is less his subject’s outward appearance than her individuality and emotions. The dark background that takes the place of the usual view into the landscape enhances this effect, as does the choice of bust portrait. The traditional Italian costume that was so popular for such works has yielded to a more subdued garb and the woman’s slightly lowered gaze makes her melancholy almost palpable. The light shining down from above is reflected in her jet-black hair, modest hair clip and earrings. Only the red coral necklace stands out, its bold coloration breathing life into that intimacy between viewer and subject that the artist so successfully evokes.
Kunstlandschaft Rhein-Main. Malerei im 19. Jahrhundert 1806–1866, exh. cat. Museum Giersch Frankfurt, 25.9.2000 to 21.1.2001, Frankfurt 2000, p. 162.↩