In this majestic full-length portrait, Marchesa Balbi sits frontally in a high-backed chair, her elegant, deep-green dress trimmed with gold brocade billowing around her. She gazes directly out at the viewer with disarming warmth, given the extraordinary sumptuousness of her costume. With one hand resting on her lap and the other dangling a fan against her dress, she seems relaxed and natural, and the portrait feels unexpectedly personal despite its large scale and imposing grandeur.
Anthony van Dyck had a remarkable ability to understand his patrons' personalities and to reflect them in his portraiture. Although the precise identity of this young and attractive member of the Balbi family is not known, the Balbis were prominent members of the Genoese aristocracy. They commissioned a number of portraits from Van Dyck in the mid-1620s. His relationship with the Balbi family may even have preceded his trip to Italy, as a branch of the family lived in his hometown of Antwerp.
The grand, elegant style of this painting owes much to Van Dyck's one-time mentor Peter Paul Rubens, who had traveled to Genoa in the first decades of the 17th century and executed a number of imposing portraits, such as Marchesa Brigida Spinola Doria (also in the Gallery's collection). Van Dyck would have seen these portraits after he arrived in Genoa in 1621. Although Van Dyck was inspired by Rubens's portraits, he brought an entirely different expressive character to his own work. In this example, he has softened the architectural qualities of the Marchesa's costume and introduced elements of informality in her pose and in the undulating ripple in the oriental carpet beneath the her feet, further enhancing the portrait's engaging tenderness and candor.
Balbi family Genoa, until 1819. Possibly Auguste de Sivry, Venice. Baron John Benjamin Heath [1790-1879, British consul at Genoa]; sold 1836, in London, to Robert Staynor Holford [1802-1892], Dorchester House, London; by inheritance to his son, Sir George Lindsay Holford, K.C.V.O. [1860-1926], Dorchester House; his estate; purchased February 1926 by (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased February 1926 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 28 December 1934 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
- Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, and French Masters, British Institution, London, 1836, no. 103.
- Pictures by Italian, Spanish, Flemish, Dutch, French, and English Masters, British Institution, London, 1862, no. 35.
- Exhibition of the Works of the Old Masters. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1870, no. 26, as A Portrait.
- Exhibition of the Works of Sir Anthony Van Dyck, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1887, no. 77, as The Marchesa Balbi of Genoa.
- Exhibition of Works by Van Dyck 1599-1641. Winter Exhibition, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1900, no. 70.
- Second National Loan Exhibition: Woman and Child in Art, Grosvenor Gallery, London, 1913-1914, no. 100, repro.
- Anthony van Dyck, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1990-1991, no. 24, color repro.
- Genova nell'età Barocca, Galleria Nazionale della Liguria (in the Palazzo Spinola di Pellicceria), Genoa, 1992, no. 169, repro.
- Kunst in der Republik Genua 1528-1815, Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, 1992, no. 11, repro., as Bildnis einer vornehmen Genueserin.
- Van Dyck a Genova: Grande pittura e collezionismo, Palazzo Ducale, Genoa, 1997, no. 36, repro.
- Duveen Brothers. Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941: no. 184, repro.
- Held, Julius S. "Masters of Northern Europe, 1430-1660 in the National Gallery." Art News 40, no. 8 (June 1941): , repro.
- Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1941: 204, no. 49.
- Book of Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1942: 240, repro. 41.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Mellon Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1949 (reprinted 1953 and 1958): 70, repro.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 94, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 310, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 46.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:276, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 39, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 118, repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 263, no. 336, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 143, repro.
- Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 101, color repro.
- Banu, Georges. Le Rideau ou la fêlure du monde, Paris, 1997, p. 29, repro.
- Barnes, Susan J. Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven, 2004: II.99
- Wheelock, Arthur K., Jr. Flemish Paintings of the Seventeenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2005: 53-56, color repro.