Sir Peter Lely
Portrait of an Unknown Woman c.1670–5

Artwork details

Sir Peter Lely 1618–1680
Portrait of an Unknown Woman
Date c.1670–5
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 1251 x 1003 mm
frame: 1643 x 1392 x 140 mm
Acquisition Bequeathed by Cornelia, Countess of Craven 1965
Not on display

Display caption

Lely's debt to van Dyck's work is evident in the seated three-quarter-length composition, the rich billowing curtain and the stone window opening to the left. While the identity of the sitter is uncertain, her bared breast suggests that she is some powerful man's mistress rather than a lady of impeccable virtue. Her left hand rests on a golden object, perhaps the jar that symbolises the reformed biblical sinner Mary Magdalene. Her other hand quietens an attentive spaniel, a breed often identified with the Stuart royal family.The inscription on the ledge, 'Dutchess of Cleveland', was probably added a century later.

May 2007

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