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Gonzales Coques, Portrait of a Woman as Saint Agnes

Key facts
Full title Portrait of a Woman as Saint Agnes
Artist Gonzales Coques
Artist dates 1614/18 - 1684
Date made about 1680
Medium and support Oil on silver
Dimensions 18.3 × 14.4 cm
Acquisition credit Wynn Ellis Bequest, 1876
Inventory number NG1011
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Portrait of a Woman as Saint Agnes
Gonzales Coques

A finely dressed young woman gazes assuredly out at the viewer. The distinct shape of her nose, the turn of her mouth and her faintly dimpled chin reveal that this is a portrait, though the sitter’s identity is unknown. She is shown in the guise of Saint Agnes, with the saint’s attributes of a lamb (a symbol of her chaste innocence and her Christian devotion) and a sword (the instrument of her martyrdom).

Agnes was a beautiful young girl from a wealthy Roman family, sentenced to death after spurning her suitors and pledging devotion to her Christian faith. Her condemners tried to burn her at the stake; when this failed to kill her, she was stabbed or beheaded. Agnes was patron saint of young girls and virgins, and the sitter may have shared her name.

The picture’s delicate finish and the fact it is painted on silver suggest that it was a precious object, perhaps painted for a loved one to carry with them.

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