A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)

Probably painted during Holbein's first visit to England in 1526-8, it has been suggested, very plausibly, that the sitter is Anne Lovell. The starling in the background and the pet squirrel on a chain may have been intended to allude to her name: the Lovell family showed squirrels on their coat of arms and owned a house at East Harling in Norfolk. It is conceivable that the portrait was once part of a pair of husband and wife.

Squirrels were popular pets in England as early as the 14th century. In other portraits of women and children by Holbein pet animals such as a monkey and a marmoset are included; in portraits of men he depicts the falcons used in hunting.

The sitter in the National Gallery painting is unlikely to have posed with either the squirrel or the starling: Holbein probably made separate studies of them in drawings.

Key facts

Artist dates
1497/8 - 1543
Full title
A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)
Date made
about 1526-8
Medium and support
Oil on oak
56 × 38.8 cm
Acquisition credit
Bought with contributions from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund and Mr J. Paul Getty Jnr (through the American Friends of the National Gallery, London), 1992
Inventory number
Location in Gallery