Marie Spartali was born into a family whose social circle included James McNeill Whistler and Julia Margaret Cameron. A striking beauty, Spartali was known before her artistic talents were recognized. She sat for Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne Jones, Ford Madox Brown and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This work is inspired by the city of Florence, where the artist lived in the early 1880s with her husband, an American journalist. Careful attention is paid to textures throughout the portrait, from the delicate, translucent lace at the edge of the cuffs of the fanciful gown to the folds of the velvet curtain. The artist achieves this great subtlety by using a very fine technique of interweaving short, delicate brushstrokes of gouache and watercolour, a medium considered at the time to be more appropriate for her gender than oils.