Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady in Red Dress, c.1615 

 English School 

Portrait of a Lady in Red Dress, c.1615,  English School
Oil on Panel
17th Century
22 ½ x 17 ¼ inches, 57 x 44 cm
This fine head and shoulders portrait dates from about 1615. The sitter, who wears a standing ruff fashionable at that time, is as yet unidentified, although she is clearly a lady of some rank and wealth. Her dress, most probably of red silk or velvet, is detailed with cloth of gold and silver, and she wears an elaborate and highly jeweled chain from her shoulders. The central jewel of the chain is a crescent of diamonds, probably an allusion to the goddess Diana, while around her neck is a prominent heart. The stones in both are painted black, due to the silver foil backing which would have been placed behind them. Finally, the obvious cross earring, again made with diamonds, further attests to the sitter’s purity and virtue.

Although a Jacobean work, this picture, in its relatively unsophisticated approach, is an example of the final evolution of Elizabethan portraiture. Here, there is no hint of the elaborate backgrounds and challenging compositions that were already being seen in England at this stage, and which became standard practice from about 1620 onwards (such as no.xx). Instead, the decorative and jewel-like manner of Elizabethan art is seen at its most developed, with skills taken from an age when the aims of portraiture were straightforward; to record likeness and, most importantly, to display wealth. The simplistically rendered, if psychologically penetrating, face is contrasted against the detailed and formalised costume. The symbolic jewels act as obvious sub-titles for the viewer, and all the artist’s skill is directed towards the sharp detailing, as seen in the ruff, so that the viewer would be able to see the fineness, and thus expense, of the lace on display.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.