Her name is lost to us, but she was likely at the court of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. The court was the mid-15th century’s most magnificent and established tastes for virtuosity and refinement across Europe. Rogier van der Weyden, celebrated by contemporaries for the invention and intensity of his religious paintings, produced a number of portraits at the Burgundian court at the end of his career, from about 1450 until his death in 1464, apparently including this one.Their spare formalism and mannered aspect were well matched to an aristocratic ideal of control, which was itself no less an expression of power than the lavish displays of luxury textiles, gold, and gems for which the dukes of Burgundy were known.
Sharp, interlocking shapes produce a severe balance of form in this portrait. Notice how the fall of the veil over the sitter’s shoulders responds to the V of her neckline, and how her body divides the deep blue-green of the background into framing triangles. The alternation of black and white in her dress, bodice, and veil are relieved only by a red belt (which x-rays show was altered from her original even more slender waist). The shallow planes of her face, painted in a spare, linear manner, are made more abstract by the exaggerated proportions created by then-fashionable plucked brows and hairline. She is defined more by contours than by three-dimensional forms, except in her full, sensual mouth.