National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Profile Portrait of a Lady Franco-Flemish 15th Century (painter)
Profile Portrait of a Lady, c. 1410
oil on panel
painted surface: 52 x 36.6 cm (20 1/2 x 14 7/16 in.) overall (panel): 53 x 37.6 cm (20 7/8 x 14 13/16 in.) framed: 74.1 x 61.3 x 5.4 cm (29 3/16 x 24 1/8 x 2 1/8 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
On View
From the Tour: Netherlandish Painting in the 1400s
Object 1 of 9

Portraits were often included in devotional works, in which donors were depicted as witnessing a sacred scene. Independent portraits, however, are extremely rare before about 1425. This painting is the only one of a woman known to exist today. Her identity remains a mystery, but her dress and hauteur suggest she may have been at the French court; evidently she was a person of considerable rank. Portraits were commonly made of prospective partners in arranged marriages between powerful royal families. Van Eyck, for example, painted such portraits while on diplomatic assignment. The age and commanding presence of this woman, however, may indicate that she was already in a strong dynastic position. Her profile pose produces a clear and authoritative image and avoids direct contact with the viewer's gaze.

The austere line of the subject's features is emphasized by the high forehead of her fashionable plucked hair line. High contrast against the flat background exaggerates the refinement of her likeness. The artist has painted individual details, such as the crimped curl at the brow and the heavy cage beads pinned at the shoulders, with careful attention; yet they are subordinated in a composition that has geometric, almost abstract severity. These ornamental qualities are typical of the International Style, which predominated all over Europe until it was supplanted by the more naturalistic work of the painters Robert Campin and Jan van Eyck and their followers.

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