I love this picture and bought a poster of it from the Louvre shop a couple of years ago, which now resides in our bedroom. The atheist was a bit dubious about putting it up in the sitting room as he thought it might inflame his father’s sexual ardour so er we put it in our bedroom, so that now I find myself worrying in case babysitting in laws think it is there in order to titillate us in some way.
I think their heads would probably explode if they knew that it depicts a pair of sisters.
The painting is of Gabrielle d’Estrées, beloved mistress of Henri IV of France and one of her sisters. The nipple tweaking is supposed to represent Gabrielle’s pregnancy with the King’s baby and is symbolic of her fertility. The ring on Gabrielle’s finger is supposedly the coronation ring of France, bestowed upon her by her royal lover in March 1599 as a betrothal ring when it looked like he was about to get rid of his infamous wife, Marguerite de Valois, La Reine Margot.
Breastfeeding fans may want to note that Gabrielle almost certainly did not breastfeed her own babies – it was usual at the time to employ a carefully vetted wet nurse for this purpose. A practise that was still ongoing in Victorian times when young Queen Victoria complained in 1841 about the drunkeness of the wet nurse hired to feed the infant Princess Royal.
Sadly, La Belle Gabrielle died of eclampsia as a result of her pregnancy and Henri went on to marry Marie dei Medici and father Henrietta Maria amongst a brood of other children.