The sitter in the present portrait, a young woman sumptuously dressed in a golden gown embellished with embroidery and pearls, has traditionally been identified as Bianca Capello de'Medici, a member of a Venetian noble family. Though her parents forbade it, Bianca eloped at age seventeen with Piero Buonaventura, a well-born yet impoverished Florentine suitor. Her family gave chase, even putting a bounty of 2,000 ducats on Piero's head, but the lovers escaped to Florence where they lived for several years in poverty. At some point, legend holds that Bianca was hanging up the washing when her beauty caught the eye of Francesco de'Medici, the eldest son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. In an effort to get closer to her, Francesco elevated Piero to a prestigious position in public office, where his pride made him many enemies and he was conveniently murdered shortly thereafter. Bianca became Francesco's mistress, and his devotion remained unwavering even after his marriage to Joanna, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand of Austria, in 1574. When Joanna died in 1578, Bianca and Francesco, now the Grand Duke, were finally married. They died in 1587, following a banquet, and may have been poisoned.
Alessandro Allori was the pupil and adopted son of Agnolo Bronzino, court artist to Cosimo I de'Medici and the leading painter in Florence in the mid-sixteenth century. Allori's earliest works, among them a decorative cycle commemorating the marriage of Francesco de'Medici and Joanna of Austria, were strongly influenced by his studies of Michelangelo and of antique statuary. The present painting, according to Simona Lecchini Giovannoni, likely dates to later in Allori's career; she notes that the softening of technique and increased attention to facial detail represent a departure from Bronzino that became increasingly evident in the 1580s. Giovannoni compares the portrait to a Portrait of a Magdalene, present location unknown, which she dates to a similar period.