Anthony van Dyck painted this portrait of an upper-class Antwerp burgher around 1628, shortly after he returned to Antwerp from a six-year sojourn in Italy. At that time, Antwerp's long-established portrait tradition emphasized a sitter's virtuous character through restrained gestures and a direct gaze. However, while in Italy, Van Dyck's portrait style had evolved and he afterward tended to portray his sitters with gentle grace and elegant demeanor. Moved by his remarkable ability to paint likenesses that were as intimate as they were noble, Antwerp patrons eagerly commissioned works by his hand.
The woman in the Gallery's portrait exemplifies Van Dyck's approach to portraiture that so appealed to his Antwerp clientele. As she turns her head slightly to look directly at the viewer, the woman stands in a relaxed yet dignified manner, her right hand gently grasping her black overdress and her left hand holding a closed fan by her side. Her hair is arranged loosely over her neck and elegantly frames her face in a manner that is fashionable yet subtle, while her extraordinary white satin dress features discreetly placed jewelry that attests to her aristocratic refinement.
Although the sitter's name is not known, she has been traditionally identified as Doña Polyxena Spinola Guzman de Leganés (1600–1637), daughter of the Genoese general commander of the Spanish army in the southern Netherlands Ambrogio Spinola (1569–1630). Van Dyck did paint Doña Polyxena while he lived in Genoa, probably in the winter of 1621–1622. However, no documents indicate that she ever visited Antwerp and the sitter possesses entirely different facial characteristics than does Doña Polyxena in her known portraits. Whatever the woman's identity, Van Dyck ably imbued her with dignity, humanity, and grace, the hallmarks of his artistic genius.
Probably Archduke Leopold Wilhelm [1614-1662], Brussels, by 1653. Possibly Spinola family, Spain; possibly Marchesa Geronima Centurione, Genoa; probably Doria family, Genoa, by 1680; probably by inheritance to Marchese Ambrogio Doria [d. 1913], Genoa; probably by inheritance to his son, Marchese Giorgio Doria, Genoa; (Count Alessandro Contini-Bonacossi, Rome), by 1928; sold March 1932 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1957 to NGA.
- Catalogue of a Century of Progess Exhibition of Paintings and Sculpture. The Art Institute of Chicago, 1933, no. 59.
- Masterpieces of Art. European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300-1800, New York World's Fair, 1939, no. 104.
- Baroque Portraiture in Italy: Works from North American Collections, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida; Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut, 1984-1985, no. 75, as Portrait of a Lady in Black, White, and Gold.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida, 1985-1987.
- Obras Maestras de la National Gallery of Art de Washington, Museo Nacional de Antropología, Mexico City, 1996-1997, unnumbered catalogue, 52-53, color repro.
- Masterpieces from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art; Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, 1999, no. 81, repro.
- Dutch and Flemish Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, 2003, no cat.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1945-1951. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1951: 208, no. 92, repro.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 294, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 48
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 40, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 122, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 115-116, fig. 105.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 259, no. 329, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 148, repro.
- Mündler, Otto. "The Travel Diaries of Otto Mündler." Ed. Carol Togneri Dowd. Walpole Society 51 (1985): 179, 276.
- Barnes, Susan J. Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven, 2004: III.203
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 71-74, color repro.