If Zurbarán, Velázquez's contemporary and fellow Andalusian, remained committed throughout his life to stark contrasts of light and shade, Velázquez did not. After he moved to court his own handling of light began to look very modern; it became increasingly sophisticated and yet realistic, incomparably so for his times. He mastered the art of conveying atmospheric values subtly. The effect of this portrait of a lady derives not least from the neutral, lightgrey ground, and the subject's face and hair, which are blurred when we examine them closely, but from a distance seem to be seen through the dust-filled air of an inner chamber. The chair, a stylistic device Velázquez used frequently, is an example of Velázquez's ability to derive the strongest effects from restricted resources: as the sole prop, it seems to have appeared in the room by chance, bot it allows the lady to achieve a stately pose. A note an the back of the picture led to the earlier belief that she was the painter's wife, but she is now usually thought to be Countess Monterrey, the wife of a Spanish ambassador and sister of Livares. She lived in Italy, which indicates that the picture was painted as early as 1631, when Velázquez first returned from Rome.