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This is an early painting by Anthony van Dyck, arriving when he was only just into his twenties
This beautiful oil on canvas can now be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, USA. It is one of his largest paintings, standing at around 2 1/2 metres long. Anthony van Dyck was amongst the most skilled portrait painters in European history and produced both neck-length and full length portraits. This artwork is typically complementary to its main subject, in this case Marchesa Cattaneo.
The beauty of the female figure has long since attracted artists, particularly considering that most famous artists have been male. Women of high status would also have suitable attire to add further aesthetic qualities to the painting and normally the portrait would be paid for by someone else.
This painting is rare in that Van Dyck pays more attention to the background than he normally would. It pictures a detailed terrace in Genoa. It is actually the subject’s palace, perhaps she specifically requested this setting to provide a feeling of homeliness to the finished piece.
The grand lady also has one of her servants pictured in this painting. It was rare for black people to appear in the work of famous artists because of their subordinate role in society at that time. There are examples of close bonds such as this appearing in domestic scenes though, such as in Edouard Manet’s Olympia. The role of her servant is underlined by how she holds a red parasol for Marchesa Cattaneo to protect her from the sun.
The classy lady stands confidently, helping us to understand more about her character. The architectural pillars that stand behind her appear to mirror her stance and strengthen her image further.