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Gabriel Metsu, An Old Woman with a Book

Key facts
Full title An Old Woman with a Book
Artist Gabriel Metsu
Artist dates 1629 - 1667
Date made about 1660
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 31.6 × 27.3 cm
Inscription summary Signed
Acquisition credit Salting Bequest, 1910
Inventory number NG2590
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
An Old Woman with a Book
Gabriel Metsu

One of Gabriel Metsu’s great strengths as an artist was his ability to absorb ideas and influences from other artists. Here he has borrowed a device from Gerrit Dou, who had probably trained him in Leiden a few years earlier.

Dou had found success with a series of ‘niche paintings’ – scenes, sometimes portraits, often of shops or tradespeople who were portrayed in a grand architectural frame. It was a device which proved popular, and allowed artists to give a greater sense of depth to a painting.

Here, Metsu borrows the idea – presumably because of its popularity. But where Dou’s figures are usually lively and animated, Metsu’s old lady is absorbed and reflective. The pestle and mortar, the flagon and the book in front of her suggest that she has some connection with the medicinal arts. She may be a herbalist pondering a recipe for a concoction.

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