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Hans Holbein the Younger, A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)

Key facts
Full title A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)
Artist Hans Holbein the Younger
Artist dates 1497/8 - 1543
Date made about 1526-8
Medium and support Oil on oak
Dimensions 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 NG6540
Location Room 27
Collection Main Collection
A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)
Hans Holbein the Younger

A solemn woman wearing a soft cap of dense white fur sits with a red squirrel in her lap and a glossy-feathered starling at her shoulder. Common pets in the fifteenth-century, these animals also have a symbolic meaning and serve as clues to the sitter’s identity. She is thought to be Anne Lovell, whose husband, Sir Francis Lovell, was employed at the court of Henry VIII, King of England.

The starling is probably intended as a rhyming pun of East Harling, where the family had recently inherited a large estate. Squirrels nibbling on nuts feature on the heraldry of the Lovell family: the windows of the church at East Harling include two of the family’s coats of arms in stained glass, each showing six red squirrels. The commission may commemorate the birth of a son to the couple in the spring of 1526, but it also showed off their new status as wealthy landowners.

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