National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Portrait of a Female Donor Petrus Christus (artist)
Netherlandish, active 1444 - 1475/1476
Portrait of a Female Donor, c. 1455
oil on panel
overall: 41.8 x 21.6 cm (16 7/16 x 8 1/2 in.) framed: 54.3 x 35.5 x 9.2 cm (21 3/8 x 14 x 3 5/8 in.)
Samuel H. Kress Collection
On View
From the Tour: Netherlandish Painting in the 1400s
Object 6 of 9

Petrus Christus was the leading artist in Bruges after the death of Jan van Eyck. He purchased citizenship there, presumably so he could enter the painters' guild, and became known primarily for devotional images. This portrait and its mate were most likely part of a hinged three-part panel painting called a triptych. These were almost certainly the wings, which when opened showed the man and woman praying to an image of the Virgin and Child in the center. Since they are depicted in a domestic setting, the panels were probably made for private devotion in the couple's home.

The woman's costume is that of a wealthy matron from the Low Countries, but the coat of arms depicted is that of the Vivaldi, a prominent Genoese family with extensive banking and commercial interests in the north. Stuck to the wall with dabs of red sealing wax is a woodcut. It depicts Saint Elizabeth of Thuringia, so in all likelihood the woman's name was also Elizabeth or some variant of it. Undoubtedly, she and her husband, known to be a member of the Lomellini family by the coat of arms on his portrait, were part of the large Italian business community in Bruges. These families, because they carried small panels like this one home with them, played an important role in spreading the oil technique and the precise style of northern paintings to Italy. As Michelangelo noted, "In Flanders they paint, before all things, to render exactly and deceptively the outward appearance of things."

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