Sir Anthony Van DyckA Lady of the Spencer Family c.1633-8

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Artwork details

Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599‑1641)
A Lady of the Spencer Family
Date c.1633-8
MediumOil paint on canvas
Dimensionssupport: 2076 x 1276 mm
Acquisition Purchased 1977
Not on display


Painted during the 1630s, this is the type of full-length portrait by van Dyck that was to influence subsequent English portrait-painters from Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) to John Singer Sargent (1856-1925). This image of a young woman in a blue satin gown was recorded at Althorp, Northants, the family seat of the Earls of Spencer, in the early eighteenth century, although knowledge of the identity of the sitter had by then been lost. Sir Oliver Millar has recently tentatively suggested that she could be Elizabeth (1618-72) daughter of William, 2nd Lord Spencer of Wormleighton (1592-1636).

Alongside the subject, a small brown-and-white spaniel jumps up at a lizard which clings to the heavily rusticated pedestal of a large urn. Both creatures can be seen as symbols of fidelity, and would thus be appropriate inclusions in a portrait of a recently betrothed or newly married woman. In 1634, Elizabeth Spencer married, as her first husband, John, 1st Lord Craven of Ryton (1610-48) and the portrait could therefore have been painted at around that time… (read more)

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