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A Man and his Wife
Italian
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This portrait of an unknown husband and wife is unusually intimate. The costumes have been dated to the mid-1540s. It was rare at the time for a man to be depicted with his hand resting on his wife’s shoulder. It was also slightly unusual for a woman to be shown on her husband’s right-hand side, which was regarded as the position of honour. The lady is standing before a fruiting lemon tree, perhaps symbolising fertility, and holding a pink carnation, which was a flower associated with betrothals.

The picture is badly damaged, so it is difficult to tell who painted it. The portrait came from a collection in Ferrara and may have been made in North Italy, but perhaps by a Flemish rather than an Italian artist. The costumes are provincial from northern Italy and suggest that it is not Venetian.

Key facts
Artist Italian
Full title A Man and his Wife
Date made mid-1540s
Medium and support Oil on canvas, perhaps transferred from wood
Dimensions 65.4 x 73.7 cm
Acquisition credit Layard Bequest, 1916
Inventory number NG3117
Location in Gallery Gallery A: Paintings 1250-1600
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