Some of Van Dyck's most intimate and least formal portraits, such as this one, are those he painted of the predominantly bourgeois citizens of Antwerp and their families before his departure to Italy in 1621.
This unknown woman and child may originally have been paired with a portrait of the woman's husband, towards whom the child would have been gesturing. The lively pose of the child is contrasted with the stillness of the mother, and complemented by the striking colour of the dress.
Van Dyck shows a sympathy and sense of animation in his early portraits. These are more like the portraits of Rubens than the more aristocratic subjects of Van Dyck's later works in England.