Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Portrait of a Young Woman
  • Creator: Rogier van der Weyden, painter
  • Description:

    With her face slightly turned to the right, the woman’s eyes are positioned to the left in a lively effort to direct the audience’s gaze toward her face. At the time of the painting, such a gaze could be thought of as provocative. However, the possibly promiscuous gaze is dismissed by her sober clothing and the inclusion of her clasped hands in her lap at the bottom right corner of the painting. She appears in clothing consistent with fashion from the Netherlands. Her gown is pewter with a black accent and is made from what appears to be wool trimmed with a dark fur. The sleeves are large and the bodice is pleated. She wears five gold rings on her hands, two containing jewels and one with a pearl. The pinned, starched headdress and the scarf wrapped around her chin suggest the woman is married. Her clothing indicates an affluent status but not an aristocratic one. The black background sets a serious tone to the painting. The background was originally a dark blue which perhaps was intended for a less solemn effect.

    Rogier van der Weyden painted this portrait early in his career, and art historians see evidence in it of the style of the Master of Flémalle (possibly the younger man’s teacher) with his interest in portraying a person’s individuality. In his mature work, van der Weyden abandoned the closely observed portrayal that we see here in his treatment of the young woman’s hands and rings. The neatly pinned headdress is also rendered in careful detail with attention to its transparency on the forehead and its varying color according to the light. Art historian Albert Châtelet argues that a decoration on the back of the painting is associated with Philip III, known as the Good, duke of Burgundy (1396-1467). Châtelet suggests that the woman portrayed may be one of Philip’s numerous mistresses, and given the approximate date of the painting, it could likely be Nicole du Bosquiel (also known as Jeanne, Chastellain de Bosquiel, Damoiselle de Quéry-La-Motte) who gave birth in 1427 to Philip’s son, David of Burgundy, later bishop of Utrecht. This possibility is further reinforced by copies in the Recueil d’Arras of portraits of two other ducal mistresses who were connected to Philip in the period from 1425 to 1435.
  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Open Access
  • Subject (See Also): Concubines Headdresses Jewelry Portraits
  • Geographic Area: Low Countries
  • Century: 15
  • Date: 1428- 1436
  • Related Work: See Philip the Good’s two mistresses, Jeanne de Presle and Catherine de Tufferies in the upper row of these images from the Recueil d’Arras. The two figures in the bottom row are some of their children: http://www.dbnl.org/tekst/prev002prin01_01/prev002prin01ill190.gif
  • Current Location: Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, 545D
  • Original Location: Netherlands/Italy
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Paintings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Oak wood panel; Oil paint;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 49.1/33/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Châtelet, Albert. Rogier van der Weyden: problèmes de la vie et de l’oeuvre. Presses Universitaires de Strasbourg, 1999. Pp. 112-114;
    Hollander, Anne. Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting. National Gallery, 2002. Pp. 32-33;
    Kemperdick, Stephan and Sander, Jochen. The Master of Flemalle and Rogier van der Weyden. Hatje Cantz. Pg. 277-280.
    Metzger, Catherine A., and Michael Palmer. “The Creative Process in Rogier van der Weyden’s Portraits.” Invention: Northern Renaissance Studies in Honor of Molly Faries. Edited by Julien Chapuis. Brepols, 2008. Pp. 69-70.