“Study of a Woman in Red” was one of the most popular painting postcards sold at the art shop at the Louvre. It is a profile of the lady, but viewers can sense the elegance of this young woman from her bright and kind gaze and compressed lips. Whose portrait is it?
The name of the woman is Fabiola, a Roman aristocrat married to a profligate and violent man. She divorced him after enduring his dissipation and married again. Though her decision would be supported nowadays, but this woman lived in the fourth century. She was socially criticized for breaking church rules and was abandoned from church. When her second husband passed away, she gave up all of her earthly pleasures and devoted her life to the poor and the ill. She gave up her wealth to build the first Christian hospital in Rome and looked after homeless and waifs. She earned the respect of the people and recognition of the church and eventually was named a saint. However, she was completely forgotten until the mid 19thcentury.
She was restored back to memory after the novel titled in her name was published in 1854, written by a British cardinal. Thirty years later, French painter Jean Jacque Henner drew a portrait of her, which helped promote her image to the public. The red veil symbolizes atonement, sacrifice, passion and dedication as a saint. Though the original painting went lost in 1912, the painting has been and is still replicated by many anonymous artists around the world.
Modern artist Francis Alÿs, however, did not replicate the painting, but compiled replicated paintings and created a piece of installation art. Since 1994, the Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist visited flea markets and antique stores around the world to gather more than 500 pieces. The painting is loved and replicated because Fabiola is the icon of overcoming hardship and living her own life, as well as a timeless model of caring for others.