Netherlandish School, Portrait of a Woman

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)


Country House
Mells Manor
Portrait of a Woman
Recto 1599, verso c.1500–99
Medium and support
Oil on panel
Overall height: 29 cm, Overall width: 23 cm
Netherlandish School
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed: ‘1599’. Verso: grisaille of sculptural group


This introspective portrait of an unknown woman is handled with skill and sensitivity. It is inscribed 1599 and her costume is found in some earlier portraits (see V. de Bosse, Portrait of a Lady aged 27, 1584, Temple Newsam), although stylistically it is also comparable to later portraits of leading Dutch burghers, such as Werner van den Valckert’s Three Regentesses and the ‘House Mother’ of the Amsterdam Lepers’ Asylum (1624, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, SK-C-419). The small bust format appears to have been adapted to fit the oval panel.

On the reverse is a sculptural group in grisaille (fig. 1). The Virgin and Child are held in the arm of the much larger figure of St Paul, identifiable by the sword held in his right hand. Grisaille sculptural figures commonly adorned the external shutters of polyptychs in the Netherlands in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. These figures display Italianate influence, particularly in the robust Christ Child who recalls the twisted poses of Christ in Raphael’s ‘Alba’ and ‘Bridgewater’ Madonnas. The oval panel was probably cut from a salvaged altarpiece.

verso c.1500–99. Oil on panel, 29 × 23 cm.

Figure 1.
Netherlandish School, Virgin and Child, verso c.1500–99. Oil on panel, 29 × 23 cm.

Digital image courtesy of Dave Penman. (All Rights Reserved)

The inscribed date may therefore also indicate the year in which the altarpiece was dismantled, perhaps following the conversion of a Catholic church to Calvinist worship. As part of the Dutch Revolt against Catholic Habsburg rule, Maurice of Nassau led a renewed campaign to conquer territory for the new Dutch Republic, seizing a number of towns in 1597 including Turnhout, Bredevoort, Groenlo and Lingen. Calvinism was established as the state religion and although Catholics were allowed freedom of worship in private, many suffered persecution. This panel may be a private act of religious commemoration. It was acquired by William Graham and previously hung in the Oak Room at Mells Park.

by Amy Lim

Related catalogue items from Mells Manor

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    The Crucifixion

    Matteo di Giovanni

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    An Angel with Palm and Lyre

    Edward Burne-Jones, 1881

  • Castle Howard Mells Manor

    Mells Church

    David Jones, 1939