This young woman’s semi-transparent collar and cuffs show that her portrait was probably made in the second half of the 1640s, when such a look was fashionable, and when the artist was a young, up-and-coming painter. He had left Rembrandt’s studio, then one of the most famous in Amsterdam, in about 1641 and he was on course for great success.
We don’t know who the sitter is, but she is expensively and fashionably dressed, and wearing expensive jewellery. Her fan, too, was a costly accessory and in vogue at the time. Bol seems also to be emphasising her high social status through her pose, which reflects one developed by Rembrandt from highly regarded portraits by Titian and Dürer. It became a popular device in Dutch painting of the time and was used at least twice by Bol for his own self portraits.
Although there are no records telling us who this young woman is, we can learn quite a lot about her from her dress and jewellery, and her pose. The painting isn’t dated, but the distinctive style of her semi-transparent collar and cuffs suggests that it was made in the second half of the 1640s, when such a look was fashionable.
We also know that at this time the artist, Ferdinand Bol, was a young, up-and-coming painter. He had left Rembrandt’s studio, then one of the most famous in Amsterdam, in about 1641 and he was on course for success. By the early 1650s he was receiving more high-profile public commissions and may well have been charging more for portraits than his former master. So, whoever commissioned this portrait had chosen a young painter associated with a glamorous studio who was fast gaining a high reputation.
The pose selected was also a fashionable one, intended to emphasise high social status. The half-length view, with the sitter resting one arm on a ledge and turning towards the viewer, had been developed by Rembrandt himself for a self portrait of 1640 (now in the National Gallery); he had derived it from highly regarded portraits by Titian and Dürer. It became a popular device in Dutch painting of the time and was used at least twice by Bol for his own self portraits. The wall or parapet at the bottom of the picture is much more than a prop to emphasise the confident elegance of the pose. It deepens the perspective, making the painting seem less one-dimensional and more like a window onto reality. And strangely, while creating a barrier between the sitter and the viewer, it also unites their two worlds. The overhanging fingers and the swirl of the curtain draped over the wall create the illusion that they share our space.
Here Bol has added an extra twist: the angle of the fan adds to that illusion. Pentimenti (earlier brushstrokes showing through the paint layers) are evidence that he worked on this effect, altering the angle of the fan slightly so that it points more towards the viewer. This, combined with the gold highlights he has deftly added to the tip of the folds, also deepens the perspective. The fan seems to protrude forward beyond the plane of the sill.
The fan is also an indicator of wealth and style. The type shown here, often decorated with either biblical or more light-hearted scenes, was a luxury possession and much in vogue in the 1640s. The sitter’s jewellery is expensive, too. A very large teardrop pearl hangs from what seems to be a gold brooch set with diamonds, and there may be more diamonds in her elaborately worked earrings and necklace. Her respectability is confirmed by her modest dress, but the lace bib, black fabric, with an elaborate bodice glittering with gold thread – which also glitters in her ribbons, collar and fan – was the costume of the wealthy elite of the time.
We can also guess at her marital status. It was customary, although not strictly required, for women to wear a wedding ring. Most often it would be worn on either the first or little finger of the right hand, and although this hand is rather obscured, no rings are visible here. We are looking, then, at a young, unmarried woman from a wealthy, fashion-conscious and respectable family, very probably from Amsterdam, where Bol’s studio was located.
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