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Portrait of a Lady

Rogier van der Weydenc. 1460

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

This painting is an outstanding example of the abstract elegance characteristic of Rogier's late portraits. Although the identity of the sitter is unknown, her air of self-conscious dignity suggests that she is a member of the nobility. Her costume and severly plucked eyebrows and hairline are typical of those favored by highly placed ladies of the Burgundian court.

The stylish costume does not distract attention from the sitter. The dress, with its dark bands of fur, almost merges with the background. The spreading headdress frames and focuses attention upon her face. Light falls with exquisite beauty along the creases of the sheer veiling over her head, and gentle shadows mark her fine bone structure. In contrast to the spareness of execution in most of the painting, the gold filigree of her belt buckle is rendered with meticulous precision. The scarlet belt serves as a foil to set off her delicately clasped hands.

Rogier excelled as a portrait painter because he so vividly presented the character of the persons he portrayed. The downcast eyes, the firmly set lips, and the tense fingers reflect this woman's mental concentration. Rogier juxtaposed the strong sensation of the sitter's acute mental activity to his rigid control of the composition and the formality of her costume and pose, presenting the viewer with an image of passionate austerity.

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Details

  • Title: Portrait of a Lady
  • Date Created: c. 1460
  • Physical Dimensions: w255 x h340 cm (painted surface)
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: Andrew W. Mellon Collection
  • External Link: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
  • Medium: oil on panel
  • artist: Rogier van der Weyden
  • Theme: portrait, female
  • School: Netherlandish
  • Provenance: Probably Leopold Friedrich Franz, Prince of Anhalt [d. 1817], Gotisches Haus, Wörlitz, near Dessau.[1] Probably Leopold Friedrich, Prince of Anhalt [d. 1871]; Friedrich I, Duke of Anhalt [d. 1904];[2] Friedrich II, Duke of Anhalt, Gotisches Haus, Wörlitz, and Herzogliches Schloss, Dessau, until 1925. (Bachstitz Gallery, The Hague, 1925).[3] (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased December 1926 by Andrew W. Mellon, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 30 March 1932 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA. [1] For the activity of this prince as a collector, see C. Rost, "Der alte Nassau Oranische Bilderschatz und sein späterer Verbleib," Jahrbücher für Kunstwissenschaft 6 (1873), 52 93. The numerous portraits in the Anhalt collection are not very precisely described in the early catalogues. However, Lorne Campbell has suggested that 1937.1.44 may be identical with no. 1318, "Dirk Bouts(?), Weibliches Porträt in schwarzer Kleidung mit rothem Gürtel," in the bedroom of Duke Franz in the Gotisches Haus; Wilhelm Hosäus, Wörlitz. Ein Handbuch für die Besucher des Wörlitzer Gartens und die Wörlitzer Kunstammlungen, 2d ed. (Dessau, 1883), 40. [2] Bruges, Hôtel de Gouvernement Provincial, 1902, Exposition des primitifs flamands et d'art ancien, no. 108, lists the Duke as the current owner. [3] See ArtNews (10 October 1925), 6 and (24 October 1925), 1.

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