Department or Program


Primary Wellesley Thesis Advisor

Margaret Carroll


The School of Fontainebleau produced a striking group of portraits depicting nude and half-nude women bathing or at their toilette. These paintings are exceptional for the period in that nudity was primarily reserved for allegorical or mythological contexts. The identity of the women depicted in these mysterious paintings has been a continual source of fascination for scholars who have suggested the royal mistresses Diane de Poitiers, Marie Touchet, Catherine Henriette de Balzac d’Entrague, and Gabrielle d’ Estrées as well as the queen Mary Stuart as possible subjects. Beyond the women’s precise identities, however, the paintings elicit many questions; this thesis explores the genre and what they reveal to us about the creative and performative nature of women’s sexuality and gender at the French Renaissance court.