The Ashmolean has acquired a magnificent full-length portrait of a woman by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641). The acquisition has been made possible by the Acceptance-in-Lieu scheme, administered by the Arts Council, with additional support from the Art Fund.
Portrait of a Woman is a rare example of van Dyck’s early work, made when he was just 20 years old. Only one other full-length portrait of a non-aristocratic sitter from this period is known. The picture is very ambitious for such a young artist. It shows the influence of van Dyck’s master, Peter Paul Rubens and is clearly the work of Rubens’s most gifted pupil.
The painting portrays a young woman adorned with fine jewellery including a gold headdress, pearl earrings and bracelets, diamond rings and an ornate gold chain. She is sumptuously dressed in a large ruff made of delicate lace, a black vlieger: an over-gown trimmed with lace cuffs, and an embroidered bodice over a black silk skirt. She is confidently smiling at the viewer while seated in an opulent armchair on a balcony with a column and a billowing red curtain behind her. At her feet sits a small pet dog with its white coat rapidly rendered in fluent brushstrokes. The dog is not only painted in the most spirited way but also acts as a symbol of fidelity.
Taken together with the roses the woman holds, the portrait was likely made on the occasion of her marriage. The companion picture of her husband is now at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. The latter has been tentatively identified as Alexander Vinck (or Vincque), a member of a family of prosperous Antwerp merchants who traded in luxury goods. The woman is likely to be Alexander’s wife, Gertrudis Wiegers.