Hendrickje Stoffels entered Rembrandt's household as a housekeeper and dry nurse to his son Titus in 1649, seven years after the death of his wife Saskia. Hendrickje became Rembrandt's mistress, and in 1654 she gave birth to their daughter Cornelia. Hendrickje died in 1663.
There is no documented portrait of Hendrickje Stoffels, and the identification of the sitter in this painting is largely based on the knowledge of the sitter's relationship with the artist, and the informality and affection with which she is represented. Her hair is decorated with jewels and she is shown wearing a fur wrap, with pearl earrings and a chain around her neck.
The free brushwork, particularly in Hendrickje's wrap, has led to suggestions that the painting is unfinished. Yet given that the painting is signed, it is likely that Rembrandt himself considered it finished. The meticulous execution of the subject's face, giving it greater emphasis, is a technique found in many of Rembrandt's portraits.