IS SHE OR ISN'T SHE? DIANE DE POITIERS DRANK TOO MUCH GOLD! We have a mystery on our hands, kids. For centuries, this 1571 painting Dame au Bain (Lady in the Bath) by François Clouet was believed to be a portrait of the famed beauty Diane de Poitiers, mistress of King Henry II of France. However, since Poitiers died in 1566 by drinking too much gold (yes! more on that later), it has been speculated that this portrait may be of two other powerful ladies of the time: Mary, Queen of Scots or Marie Touchet, mistress to King Charles IX (Henry's son). But when you view other portraits of Poitiers, you see an uncanny resemblance, leading one to believe that Dame au Bain could very well be a post-mortem tribute to Poitiers, such was her power and influence during the reign of Henry II. (Of interest is the fact that only two signed paintings by Clouet are known to exist, including this one -- and Dame au Bain is generally regarded as a great masterpiece of the French Renaissance. Hey, we would have sign them all so that someone would know how much talent we had!) Back to Diane, though. So powerful, educated, influential and beloved was she, that she often signed Henry's offical letters for him: "HenriDiane" as one name -- much to the disapproval of Henry's wife Catherine de Medici (now there's a lady not to have fooled around with). Drinking liquid gold was a beauty treatment among the wealthy women of the day (you'd have to be wealthy to drink the stuff) -- and unfortunately for Poitiers, she consumed way too much of it. In fact, a present-day autopsy revealed extremely high levels of gold in her hair and throughout her body. So, if you want to see this lady (whoever she is) up close and personal, you can view the painting (which was inspired and influenced by Da Vinci, Titian and Bronzino) at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
More about Diane: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diane_de_Poitiers
More about the painting: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.46112.html