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Sir Anthony Van Dyck
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Overview

Anthony van Dyck, a true genius at portraiture, revealed the aspirations of his sitters. He often flatteringly elongated his subjects and portrayed them sharply from below to enhance their stature. With elaborate settings, symbolic accessories, and suggestions of movement, Van Dyck made his sitters seem at once grand and alive, inaugurating a style of formal portraiture that is still emulated today. Van Dyck's elegant likenesses were sought eagerly in the Low Countries as well as in Italy and England, where he was knighted. His mythological and religious scenes were also greatly admired and profoundly influenced later generations of artists.

Antwerp: 1599-1621

As the fourteen-year-old son of a wealthy textile merchant, Van Dyck entered the studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Europe's most distinguished artist. The precociously talented Van Dyck quickly became Rubens' most valued assistant, all the while painting portraits as well as religious and mythological pictures on his own.

Italy: 1621-1627

After a short stay in England, Van Dyck went to Italy in 1621. He traveled widely but was most deeply affected by the dramatic works of Titian and Veronese that he saw in Venice. Van Dyck made Genoa his second home, decorating the patricians' lavish palaces with religious paintings and portraits that conveyed the sitters' prominence.

Antwerp: 1627-1632

After six years in Italy, Van Dyck returned to Flanders as an artist with an international reputation. Religious paintings were in demand in Antwerp, a fervently Catholic city that was a stronghold of the Counter-Reformation.

England: 1632-1641

In London on 5 July 1632, Charles I knighted Van Dyck as "principalle Paynter in Ordinary to their Majesties." For the British court, Sir Anthony van Dyck created works that conveyed the king's role as an absolute monarch. On two occasions, the celebrated artist received royal permission to return to the Continent. Van Dyck died in London, only forty-two years old, in 1641; the next year saw the stirrings of the English Civil War.

Giovanni Vincenzo Imperiale, 1626, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.89

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Portrait of a Flemish Lady follows a traditional format for the sitter's direct gaze, erect posture, and opposed hand positions. The portrait is enlivened, however, by Van Dyck's deft highlights on the jewelry, gold embroidey, lace cuffs, and millstone collar. In 1618 Van Dyck registered as a master in the Antwerp Painters' Guild. The nineteen-year-old prodigy was then entitled to accept his own commissions, possibly accounting for a sudden burst of activity noticeable in the late 1610s.

Portrait of a Flemish Lady, probably 1618, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1940.1.14

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Isabella Brant depicts the first wife of Peter Paul Rubens. Just before Van Dyck left Rubens' studio for Italy, he presented this portrait to his mentor as a gift. The setting is the Italianate garden entrance to Rubens' mansion, an Antwerp landmark designed by the owner himself as one of northern Europe's first classically styled structures. In this affectionate portrait, Van Dyck moved a statue of Minerva to an imaginary position behind Isabella's right shoulder, suggesting a link between his beloved sitter and the classical goddess of wisdom. Isabella Brant died in 1626.

Isabella Brant, 1621, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.47

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A young girl stands next to and holds the hand of an elegantly dressed woman sitting in a wooden armchair near stone columns, in front of a crimson red curtain pulled up to reveal a distant landscape view in this vertical portrait painting. The child and woman have smooth, light skin and the fabric of their dresses has a silken sheen. To our right, the woman sits with her knees angled slightly to our left and she looks at us with dark blue eyes under faint brows. Her brown hair is pulled back from her high forehead under a hair covering set with pearls. Her pointed chin is slightly pulled back and her pale pink lips are closed. A teardrop-shaped pearl hangs from the ear we can see and she wears two strands of pearls like a choker, above a thick, pleated lace ruff. The fabric of the long-sleeved bodice has a gold-on-gold pattern, and is lined with a row of buttons down the front. Filmy lace cuffs extend back over her forearms from her wrists. Her full, floor-length skirt is crimson red with a gold, brocade-like pattern, and has silvery-gray stripes down the front and around the lower hem. The cloak she wears over the dress has a black-on-black floral pattern. Three thick gold chains hang across her bodice and she wears a square-cut, gray stone set in a gold ring on the fourth finger of her left hand. To our left, the young girl stands next to the wooden arm of the chair and holds the woman’s hands with both of hers. The child looks at us with gray eyes and her pale pink lips are parted in a slight smile. Her light brown hair is pulled back under a gray band, perhaps of fur, around her head, over an apricot-colored head covering that matches the color of her dress. The tight-fitting, long-sleeved bodice of her dress is striped with bands of alternating gold and pink geometric designs against the apricot-peach background. A lace-edged collar lies across her shoulders and she wears a pearl necklace and pearl bracelets on one wrist. A thick gold chain falls across her chest and around one hip. The floor-length, full skirt has buttercup yellow and shell pink highlights on the coral-colored background. Behind the pair, the red curtain has been pulled up so it seems to flutter across the painting behind the woman’s head, in front of stone columns that frame a distant landscape view with trees. A blocky structure, perhaps a building, sits on the far distant, hazy horizon. Light pours down in streaks from steel-gray clouds against a pale blue sky.

Susanna Fourment and Her Daughter is Van Dyck's first known double likeness of an adult and a child, a portrait type he would continue to develop throughout his career. In this carefully balanced design, mother and daughter greet the viewer. With both of her tiny hands, Clara grasps the hand of her mother, who was widowed in 1621. The crimson drapery descends gently behind the sitters, as though to shelter them from the distant rainstorm. Susanna was related by marriage to Rubens' first wife, Isabella Brant, whose portrait by Van Dyck is also in the Gallery's collection. The widowed Rubens later married Susanna's sister Helena Fourment.

Susanna Fourment and Her Daughter, 1621, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.48

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Marchesa Balbi was commissioned by a member of a large Genoese family with banking and commercial interests in Antwerp. In this work Van Dyck took advantage of the austerity of Genoese attire. No matter how sumptuous the fabrics, adults were permitted to wear only black and white. In a bravura display of lighting, Van Dyck defined the marchesa's stark outfit with a cascade of gold embroidery that glistens in the shadows. Beneath these striking tones and textures, Van Dyck elegantly elongated her anatomy. Her skirt and lace ruff disguise legs and a neck half again as long as any conceivably normal proportions.

Marchesa Balbi, c. 1623, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.49

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A tall woman with pale white skin and a shorter man with brown skin stand on a terrace in this vertical, full-length portrait. At the center, the woman wears a voluminous, long-sleeved black dress with a row of gold buttons down the bodice. She has a wide, gray ruffled collar at her neck and red ruffled cuffs at her wrists. Her brown hair is pulled back under a cap ornamented with rows of white pearls. She looks at us close-lipped down the bridge of her straight nose. She holds a sprig of orange blossoms in her right hand, on our left. The Black person leans into the space from our right as he reaches to hold a crimson parasol over and behind the woman’s head. He wears an amber yellow garment over a white shirt. Fluted columns rise along the right edge of the composition and the terrace is enclosed with a low balustrade. Plants surround her feet and a distant landscape below a blue sky is visible to our left.

With superb animation, the Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo strolls before an imposing colonnade and turns to confront the viewer, whose presence she has just sensed. Van Dyck represented her cuffs in a bright red to match the parasol, making a triangular configuration of color around her self-assured face. In reality, the cuffs must have been white like her collar. The scarlet sunshade attracts attention to the head, much as a halo would in a religious image. Enhancing her almost supernatural status are the reverent eyes of her servant.

Marchesa Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo, 1623, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.92

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A brown dog with a white nose and feet sits behind a young boy with pale skin and short brown hair, wearing a black and gold jerkin and breeches, white lace collar, and buttercup yellow stockings, who stands facing us in this vertical portrait painting. The boy’s body is angled slightly to our right but he turns his face to look at us with green eyes under faint brows. He has a round face, a short nose, and the corners of his closed, coral-pink lips turn slightly up. The smooth, fair skin of his cheeks glows in bright light coming from behind us. His hair is parted in the middle and bangs sweep to each side of his forehead. He stands with his left arm, on our right, akimbo with his fist resting on his hip. His other arm rests by his side and he holds the dog’s chain leash in that hand. His right foot, on our left, points towards us. His close-fitting, belted jacket, breeches, and hip-length cape seem to be embroidered with gold on black. He has a delicate lace collar at his neck, bright yellow stockings on his calves, and brown, round-toed shoes. The chain he holds connects to the collar on the chocolate-brown and white dog, which could be a puppy. The dog’s collar is lined with large brass bosses like a row of buttons. The dog stands or sits with its front legs straight, and his back end is hidden by the boy’s legs. The background behind the boy is chestnut brown and the room seems to have a wooden floor. The painting is inscribed in black paint near the upper left corner: “Ao 1623 AET. 4. 7.”

Filippo Cattaneo and the companion painting of his sister Maddalena are Van Dyck's only known pair of children's portraits. In response to dynastic concerns of Genoese patricians, the artist began to portray individual children in Italy. An inscription on the wall at the left gives the boy's age as four years, seven months. Regardless of his innocent charm, the child assumes a posture of authority as his father's heir. One arm is cocked on his hip, and the other firmly controls an iron chain restraining a mastiff puppy.

Filippo Cattaneo, 1623, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.93

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A young girl with ivory-colored skin, round, rosy cheeks, and blond hair holds an apple and wears a full, ankle-length, silvery white dress with puffy sleeves in this vertical portrait painting. She stands with her body slightly angled to out left and she turns her face to look at us with large, dark blue eyes under faint brows. Her wavy blond hair falls to her chin and glimmers gold where it catches the light. Her nose and cheeks are flushed and her rose-red lips are closed in a slight smile. She holds a red and green apple with both hands at her waist. Her dress has a high neck and voluminous, puffy sleeves with lace at the cuffs. Her dress is covered by a smock down the front and an apron over the full skirt. The apron is edged with lace and seems to be smooth, which contrasts with the textured appearance of the skirt and sleeves. The rounded toes of her cream-white shoes poke out under the hem of her dress. She stands on a platform or on a step, and a crimson-red cushion with gold trim and tassels rests on the floor behind her. To our left, a thick, square column rises from a tall base and reaches off the top edge of the composition. The background to our right is dark with shadow that contrasts sharply with her hair, complexion, and dress.

Maddalena Cattaneo is the daughter of Giacomo Cattaneo and Elena Grimaldi Cattaneo. Standing before a velvet cushion and holding an apple, a symbol of fertility, she creates a demure foil to her brother's more defiant image. Although the children's likenesses are companion pieces of identical size and similar interior setting, they do not correspond in format to their mother's portrait, also in the Gallery's collection. The pair of children's pictures may have hung together with Van Dyck's Elena Grimaldi in the Cattaneo palace.

Maddalena Cattaneo, 1623, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.94

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Shown from the knees up, a pale-skinned man wearing armor stands with his body facing our left but he turns his head to look up and over our right shoulder in front of a distant, gray landscape in this vertical portrait painting. He looks into the distance with brown eyes under dark, arched eyebrows. Chestnut brown hair flows around his ears and to the back of his neck. His straight nose is slightly hooked at the end and his pink lips are closed under a wispy mustache. He has plump, lightly flushed cheeks and sagging jowls lead to a double chin. Light from our left glints off the suit of armor that covers his arms and round belly. He stands with his left hand, closer to us, resting on the hilt of a sword hanging at his side so his elbow points towards us. His opposite hand rests on the top of a cane. A thin leather strap crosses his chest and a thin layer of lace encircles his neck. A ruby-red sash is tied around his upper left arm in a bow and billows around and behind him. The landscape beyond has a dark, blue sky with tan-colored clouds above a low, sunlit horizon. A spit of peanut-brown land fills the lower corner. The painting is inscribed with dark capital letters in the upper right corner: “MDV RAPHAEL RACIVS. H REIP. TRIREMIVM PRAEFE.”

The Prefect Raffaele Raggi is identified by a crest at the upper right. This image is Van Dyck's first portrait of a deceased sitter. In 1528 this prefect had gained the Raggi family's admission into the nobility of Genoa, and his descendants must have requested this posthumous portrait to emphasize their lineage. Van Dyck, however, did not attempt to create an actual ancestor likeness; he undoubtedly used a living model to add vivacity to the face. Moreover, the armor is that of Van Dyck's own time, not of the early sixteenth century when the subject lived.

The Prefect Raffaele Raggi, c. 1625, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.90

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A woman wearing a voluminous black dress with a wide, ruffled collar sits holding the hand of a young boy, who stands next to her, in this full-length, vertical portrait painting. The woman sits with her body in profile facing our left, and she looks in that direction. The boy stands at her feet, behind her legs to our left, looking out at us. Both have pale, peachy skin with rosy cheeks, dark blond hair, and brown eyes. The woman’s hair is pulled back and covered with pearls, and a few short tendrils curl around her face. Her long black dress has puffed, black-on-black brocade sleeves and the skirt is cut with short, decorative slits. The skirt has a sheen where the light falls, suggesting it is silk. Her wide, stiff, ruffled collar is pleated into a figure-eight pattern around her neck and a thick gold chain loops over one shoulder to the opposite hip. The sleeves have wide, ruffled cuffs and she wears a gold ring with a slate-blue gemstone on the pinky finger of her right hand, closer to us. The boy’s small fingers wrap around the woman’s elegant right hand, farther from us. His body faces us and his other hand rests on his hip. His straight hair falls across his forehead and to his ears. His richly patterned suit has a crimson-red leafy pattern against gray satin, and the sleeves are also nickel gray. A wide, lace-trimmed collar rests along his shoulders. A dog frolics behind the boy, looking up at him with mouth open and tongue hanging out. The woman’s chair is framed by two stone columns streaked with rust red and taupe, and they extend off the top edge of the composition. A balustrade runs behind the boy along an opening beyond. The top corner of an entablature or lintel supported by columns is visible against a steel gray, cloudy sky. A red drape flutters above the people, along the top edge of the canvas, and the red-and-brown woven carpet below the pair kicks up at the base of the column closer to us.

A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son exemplifies Van Dyck's innovative designs. The majestic figures of mother and child are isolated by the artist's use of architectural forms. The woman, seen in impersonal profile, sits in a darkened portico, while the boy directly confronts the viewer from his position in front of a vast sky -- possibly implying his destiny to go out into the world. Despite the intimacy of their clasped hands, both mother and son seem hauntingly aloof, especially when compared to the frisky dog.

A Genoese Noblewoman and Her Son, c. 1626, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.91

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Lady with a Fan depicts the daughter of a Genoese admiral and the wife of Spain's ambassador to Genoa. Her marriage, which took place in Madrid in 1628, may have been the occasion for this portrait. Both her Italian father and her Spanish husband served official duties in the Netherlands, and her costume with its slashed sleeves is northern European in style. With his brilliant use of neutral tones in white, gray, and black, Van Dyck minimized the sitter's fleshy corpulence.

Lady with a Fan, c. 1628, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1957.14.1

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Golden yellow light pours onto a bank of clouds behind a young woman with ivory-colored skin and long, blond hair, wearing a flowing pale blue robe, who floats at the center of a ring of ten mostly nude, baby-like winged angels in this vertical painting. Her body faces us and her knees seem to be bent so her feet are lost in the clouds. She holds both hands out by her sides, palms facing out. Her head is tipped slightly back and to our right and she looks up with light brown eyes, her pink lips parted. Her golden hair falls loosely in waves to her shoulders. Her long-sleeved, voluminous garment is tied with a navy-blue ribbon that crosses her chest between her breasts and is presumably tied across her back. The ten angels have peachy, pale skin with small, golden or silver wings at their shoulder blades. Five angels hover around the to each side. To our left, one angel plays with the end of her blue ribbon while below, another holds a wooden cross. The angel holding the cross rests one foot on an iron-gray ball encircled with a gold band and ornamented with a gold cross. Another angel touches the top of the wooden cross and gestures towards the woman. Near her shoulder, one angel holds a crown of thorns above its head while another raises a ring of pink roses as if to place on the woman’s head. To our right, near the woman’s head, an angel holds a piece of cloth like a handkerchief towards her face while one below holds a larger drapery around its head like a hooded cloak as it looks out at us and smiles. The bottom-most angels hold her fluttering dress and look up at her face. A streak of warm light pours down from the top center, casting yellow light on the tops of the powder-blue clouds.

The Virgin as Intercessor demonstrates Van Dyck's powerful ability to devise new religious interpretations. With upturned eyes and open arms, Mary welcomes rays of heavenly light. Ten infant angels fly around her praying figure; some hold the instruments of Christ's Passion, including the crown of thorns and the cross. The intimate character and domestic scale of this altar picture suggest that it was intended for a private chapel. The wreath of roses held near the Virgin's head may refer to Saint Rosalie, whose holy relics were sent to Antwerp as protection against the plague. Van Dyck belonged to the Jesuit confraternity that brought Rosalie's relics from Sicily in 1629.

The Virgin as Intercessor, 1628/1629, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.88

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Seen from about the hips up, a young, light-skinned man with curly brown hair stands facing and looking at or toward us, wearing a plum-purple coat under a golden-yellow cape in this vertical portrait painting. The man’s oval face is angled a little to our left so he looks towards us from the sides of his gray eyes. His left eyebrow, on our right, seems slightly arched. His skin is smooth and his cheeks lightly flushed. He has a long, straight nose, his pink lips are closed, and there is a faintly painted suggestion of a goatee. Wavy bangs fall across his forehead and his curly, chin-length hair falls in rounded layers around his head. He stands with his right hand, on our left, on his hip, and in the opposite arm, he holds a wooden staff with a pewter-gray, metal, scoop-like hook at the top. White lace trims the high neck of his garment and the cuffs of his sleeves. Light reflecting off the plum-purple coat suggests a soft material, possibly velvet. Crisp reflections on the deep, butter-yellow cape fastened over one shoulder suggests it could be made from satin. An emerald-green cloth hanging from the top right corner of the composition falls behind the man’s shoulder. Behind the cloth and to our left, a craggy, rocky outcropping opens to a view of a landscape with a green valley and topaz-blue mountains in the distance. Bands of golden light illuminate the cloudy sky above. The work in inscribed with yellow lettering in the lower right corner: “Philip Lord Wharton 1632 about ye age of 19.” The artist’s name appears to the lower left: “P. Sr Ant: vandike.”

Philip, Lord Wharton was one of Van Dyck's first private commissions after he arrived in London in March 1632. Casually bracing a shepherd's crook in his arm, the nineteen-year-old aristocrat engages in a pastoral masquerade. The relationship of the handsome youth to the Arcadian landscape suggests a philosophical attitude that pervaded Charles I's court. A classical concept of ideal love had come to encompass, through Christian interpretation, the idea that physical beauty was a means of spiritually approaching God.

Philip, Lord Wharton, 1632, oil on canvas, Andrew W. Mellon Collection, 1937.1.50

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Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson portrays the wife of Charles I with her trusted confidant, a fourteen-year-old midget. This court attendant, by contrast, makes his twenty-four-year-old mistress appear much taller and more commanding than her actual petite size. Sister to Louis XIII of France, the Catholic queen wears a satin hunting dress; her crown nestles inside a brocade drapery to one side. The exotic orange tree, besides its obvious expense, implies purity and love, but the monkey might allude to erotic passions. By gently laying her hand on the animal, the queen may embody virtue restraining passion. The monkey, named Pug, was the pet of Jeffrey Hudson, who accompanied the royal family to the safety of the French court when the English Civil War broke out. Although her husband was beheaded in 1649, Henrietta Maria lived to see her children resume the throne upon the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, 1633, oil on canvas, Samuel H. Kress Collection, 1952.5.39

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A man with cream-colored skin, wearing an elaborate, gold-embroidered jacket and pants in amber yellow and tomato red stands in front of a landscape with a rocky protrusion and steel gray clouds in this vertical, full-length portrait painting. He stands with his body facing us but turns his head slightly to our left and looks off in that direction with slate-blue eyes under curving brows. His smooth cheeks are lightly flushed in his oval face. His full pink lips are closed and are framed by a mustache and small goatee under his lower lip. His wavy brown hair falls in bangs across his forehead and down to his shoulders. One longer lock has been braided and tied with a yellow and red bow. A wide, lace collar extends from his neck to drape over his shoulders, overlapping a piece of metal armor around the neck, called a gorget. His butter yellow jacket, a doublet, is embroidered with gold along the hems and where it hangs open down the front to show a white shirt beneath. Gold embroidered silver sleeves are cut with long slits to also show the white linen beneath, and end with layers of lace at the wrists. A crimson red coat or cape hangs over his left arm, on our right. His tomato-red pants are covered all over with gold stitching above ivory-white, calf-high boots. He holds a wide-brimmed, black hat adorned with soft red, white, and marigold orange feathers in his right hand, on our left. An armored breastplate rests at his feet. He stands on a dirt ground with a tall boulder immediately behind him to our right. The landscape in the distance to our left has a sky filled with steel-gray clouds above trees and hills.

Henri II de Lorraine was painted in Brussels during Van Dyck's visit to the southern Netherlands in 1633–1634. Henri II had fled from the French duchy of Lorraine after the failure of his intrigue against Louis XIII's prime minister. With ostrich plumes in his hat, armor scattered at his feet, and a steel gorget or throat guard underneath his lace collar, the duke is among the most flamboyant sitters Van Dyck ever portrayed. The bachelor also has a lovelock—a curl grown longer than the rest of his hair—in which a gallant would sport ribbons that were favors from his lady friends.

Henri II de Lorraine, c. 1634, oil on canvas, Gift of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, 1947.14.1

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A woman with a smooth, ivory complexion stands wearing a voluminous rose-pink, silk dress and holding a wreath of pink and white roses and greenery in this vertical portrait painting. Shown from the hips up, her body faces our right in profile but she turns to look at us from the corners of her dark gray eyes. Her light brown hair is pulled up but curls frame her oval face and pointed chin, and falls in ringlets to the base of her neck. She has gently curved eyebrows, a straight nose, and her small pink lips are closed. She seems to wear some red flowers in her hair, but these are lost in the dark brown, nearly black, background. She wears a short necklace made of large round pearls and large, teardrop pearl earrings hang from her lobes. Her long pink dress is cut low across her bust and wraps around her shoulders and across her back. A pearl adornment is affixed to her dress at the shoulder we can see. The sleeve of her right arm, closer to us, billows to her forearm, which ends with a wide white ruffle cuff. She holds the rose wreath with her right hand up at chest height. A sash of stiff, crinkled, tan, sheer fabric loosely wraps around her chest and back. The inscription “LADY AVBIGNY” is painted in light tan block lettering against the dark brown background at the woman’s waist level on our right.

Catherine Howard married George, Lord d'Aubigny, in 1638, and Van Dyck's portrait is stylistically consistent with the date of her wedding. She holds a rose garland, a traditional emblem of betrothal. Van Dyck imbued her image with the elegance that pervaded the court of Charles I, where beauty was equated with idealized love and spiritual fulfillment.

Catherine Howard, Lady d'Aubigny, c. 1638, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, 1942.9.95

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