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Rosina Ferrara

Rosina Ferrara (1861-1934) was a beauty from the island of Capri off the coast of Italy. You see her picture in art museums all over the world because artists loved to paint and draw her, especially Frank Hyde and John Singer Sargent. For them she had an exotic beauty, one that reminded them of the women in ancient Greek art.

She had light brown skin, black curly hair and eyes like a panther. She looked like she was part Arab and part Greek. Some say that on her mother’s side she is related to Barbarossa, the Turkish pirate. She came from the town of Anacapri where the people are markedly Arab-looking.

Charles Sprague Pearce, a painter from Boston, said of her:

the tawney skinned, panther eyed, elf-like Rosina, wildest and lithest of all the savage creatures on the savage isle of Capri

Capri is a beautiful island near Naples. In the 1800s artists and writers loved to go there to do their work. The island was not only famous for its beauty, but also for its beautiful women, who looked exotic to the French, British and Americans. In the French imagination it was the sort of place where you might fall in love with a fisherman’s daughter (and later leave her).

And on that beautiful island of beautiful exotic women, some said that the most beautiful of all was Rosina Ferrara.

She was discovered by the French artist Chatran when she was about age 14. She became a model for Edward Vaux and then the British artist Frank Hyde.

Sargent arrived in Capri in 1878 when she was 16 or 17. He went to visit Frank Hyde, telling him what kind of model he was looking for. He showed her Rosina:

When he saw her he was so fascinated with her that he made three studies in profile of her, all of which he painted in my studio.

Sargent would go on to paint her 12 times during his year on Capri. Sargent tends to make people taller and thinner than they are, but he is good at catching their mood.

Sargent did not pay her for modelling, by the way. Instead he gave her a sculpture he made of her.

In addition to Chatran, Vaux, Hyde and Sargent, she has also been painted by George Randolph Barse (husband), Alfred Stevens (lover), Charles C. Coleman (good friend), Jean Benner and Charles Sprague Pearce (that painter from Boston). Many of these paintings are in private collections.

In 1883 she had a daughter, Maria Carlotta. No one knows who the father was. Some say it was a prince. She was famous enough and beautiful enough where that would not be out of the question.

In the middle 1880s she was the mistress of Alfred Stevens, a Belgian painter.

In 1891 she married an American painter, George Randolph Barse, and went away with him to live in America, in upstate New York in Katonah. She died of pneumonia at age 76 in Flushing, Queens in New York City.

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