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.