Portrait of Manuelita Rosas (Retrato de Manuelita Rosas)

  • Artist: Pueyrredón, Prilidiano
    Nationality Argentina
    (Argentina,Buenos Aires, 1823 – Argentina, Buenos Aires, 1870)
  • Date: 1851
  • Acquisition: Museo Historico Nacional
  • Genre: portrait
  • Support: On canvas
  • Dimensions: 199 x 166 cm. - Frame: 222,5 x 186,5 x 7 cm.
  • Location: Room 22 - Arte argentino del Siglo XIX


Portrait of Manuelita Rosas (Retrato de Manuelita Rosas) Enlarge
Reference 3188

Summary Portrait of Manuelita Rosas (Retrato de Manuelita Rosas)

Prilidiano Pueyrredón returned from Europe in 1851, after having left Buenos Aires in 1835. His father, Juan Martín de Pueyrredón, ex-Director Supremo de las Provincias Unidas del Río de la Plata, a central figure in the revolution for independence, had opted for exile in the advent of the faculties granted to Juan Manuel de Rosas under the Suma de Poder Público. This decision enabled Prilidiano to obtain a European education, in addition to his knowledge of the artistic manifestations of the Imperial court in Brazil, acquired during a stay there between 1841 and 1843. The family returned in 1849 due to his father’s illness, who died in March of the following year. Shortly after finishing the portrait of Manuelita, Pueyrredón traveled to Spain. He settled definitively in Buenos Aires in 1854. The only works known from his first stay in the city as an artist are this portrait of Manuelita Rosas and another, unfinished one of his unrequited love Magdalena Costa, and probably the beginnings of a portrait of his father. It is a group marked by affection, if we consider the version that describes an old childhood friendship between the artist and the woman portrayed. It is plausible that his father’s death would have permitted young Pueyrredón to receive the commission for the portrait of Manuelita, due to his insistence before an ad hoc committee that included Juan Nepomuceno Terrero, Luis Dorrego and Gervasio Ortiz de Rozas. This committee defined the color of her dress and the pose, “more analogous with morality and rank” to be used (1). Her dress, then, should necessarily be the “red of the federal fatherland” and she should be portrayed “with a cheerful expression”, in the “act of placing a request addressed to her daddy on the table in his study. The young woman’s kindness would thus be represented in her smile; and her occupation as intermediary between the people and the Supreme Chief, in the request she places on the table”. In this large formal portrait, different variations of red are used to paint the majority of the objects represented, from the velvet dress in the latest style, the rug, the curtains, the chair and even the little bouquet in the Elizabethan vase. The 34 year-old woman portrayed is shown full-figure, angled slightly to the right with a marked contrast against the greenish background. The white lace in the skirt, discussed between the artist and the committee in order to improve the painting’s visual effect, adds luminosity to the uniform chromatic structure. One surprising detail is the punctual note of white in her silk slipper. She dons an outstanding set of diamond jewelry: a diadem worn with a bandeau hairstyle that accompanies a rebellious, bright red bow, a necklace that stands out against the open space above the “bertha” neckline (2), earrings and a brooch, in addition to gold bracelets with precious stones and rings worn on both hands.The objective of the commission was to show the painting at the gala ball held in her honor, organized by the committee formed by Baldomero García, Eustaquio José Torres and Juan Manuel de Larrazábal, the plan for which also included distributing lithographs of the portrait among those present. A sketch, with a few minor variants of her dress, may have been submitted by the artist for approval. The model followed was that of European portraits of royalty, in the same style used by Federico de Madrazo and Carlos Luis de Ribera in Spain (3).Following the Pronuncement against Rosas in May of 1851, federal party supporters in Buenos Aires were obliged to reinforce their usual “federal expressions” in the regime’s functions (4). Although it pertains to the universe of these political practices, the portrait of Manuelita nevertheless expresses a change in the use of images, primarily occupied until then by the omnipresent effigy of Rosas. The image of Manuelita—someone who even the Unitarians held in esteem—was postulated as an intermediary between the people and the government; in other words, it was a gesture auguring increased openness toward a greater level of consensus. In a subtle way, Pueyrredón incorporated the presence of Rosas not only in the request that Manuelita leaves on the table in her father’s study, but also in the Luis XV style chair: the initial “R” is embroidered in gold on the red tapestry. This portrait is the affirmation of Manuelita as a federal example of filial love and mercy - private virtues that in the case of becoming public were never as necessary as in the face of the regime’s impending demise.Roberto Amigo


1— José Mármol, La semana, Montevideo, October 6, 1851 in: Burlando de Meyer, 1971.
2— Regarding the details of the dress, cf. Marino, 2007.
3— There is a notorious similarity between this and the portrait of Isabel de Borbón, in terms of the pose and clothing; however, it is highly improbable that Pueyrredón would have been familiar with it, even more so in light of the fact that Ribera executed it in 1850.
4— Ricardo Salvatore, “Expresiones federales: formas políticas del federalismo rosista” in: Noemí Goldman and Ricardo Salvatore (comp.), Caudillismos rioplatenses: nuevas miradas a un viejo problema. Buenos Aires, Eudeba, 1998, p. 189.


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