Spanish School, 17th Century
Spanish School, 17th Century

Portrait of a noble lady, three-quarter length, in a green gold-embroidered dress

Spanish School, 17th Century
Portrait of a noble lady, three-quarter length, in a green gold-embroidered dress
oil and gold on canvas, unframed
42 ¾ x 36 ½ in. (108.6 x 92.7 cm.)
Thomas Purvis, Q.C. (1793-1849), London; (†), Christie’s, London, 1 June 1849, lot 134, as Velazquez (21 gns. to the following).
B.S. Smith.
Marquis Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, 4th duc de Dino (1843-1917) and by descent to his daughter
Princesse Pauline Marie Palma de Talleyrand-Périgord Ruspoli (1871-1952), Italy, and by descent to
Prince Alessandro and Virginia Ruspoli, Italy, by whom sold in 1967 to the following.
Virgilio Luchetti, Italy, by whom sold in 1967 to
Sante MoraMarco (1914-2000), and by inheritance to the present owners.
Sir W. Stirling-Maxwell, Bt., Annals of the Artists of Spain, London, 1848, IV, p. 1593, as Velazquez.
C. Charles Boyd, Velasquez and Murillo, London, 1883, p. 106, no. 274n, no attribution given.

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Lot Essay

Long attributed to Velazquez, this recently rediscovered portrait depicting a lady of obvious stature in the Madrilenian court dates to the regency of Carlos II (1661-1700), king of Spain. The refined young woman is clothed in a green velvet dress with a rigid, richly brocaded corset, her large, dark eyes fixed on the viewer and abundant locks cascading over her shoulders. The hairpiece on her pleated veil is ornamented with rubies, her neckline is adorned with a lavish sapphire-encrusted brooch, and she wears elaborate cluster-earrings that drop down to her bare shoulders. The pearl bracelets on her wrists, gold pocket watch tied to her waist, and diamond rings on her proper left hand underscore the young lady’s evident noble standing. Indeed, a decree in 1657 proclaimed by the Count Duke of Olivares prohibited sumptuous dress and the use of brocade except for persons of high rank, confirming the elevated status of the present sitter. Although her identity remains a mystery, it seems possible that the lady in this arresting image had her portrait commissioned on the occasion of her engagement: the pearls, sapphires, and rose on the table allude to her chastity, while the closed fan may refer to her as-yet-unmarried status.

Scholars have proposed various attributions for the present picture: while some believe the painting was made by a close collaborator of Velazquez (such as Juan Carreño de Miranda (1614-1685), a name suggested by several independent experts) others believe the painting is closer to the work of Claudio Coello (1642-1693), one of the most important Spanish painters in the last quarter of the 17th-century. The period of Spanish painting during the reign of Carlos II remains very little studied, and expertise is often complicated by the fact that few signed works by court painters from this period survive. There is certainly great room for growth in the scholarship of this fascinating era, and it is plausible that as the field develops the author of this regal portrait will be identified.

The highly distinguished 19th- and 20th-century provenance of the present work befits its illustrious, if elusive, origins. After being sold at Christie’s in 1849, the painting passed into the collection of the Marquis Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, who was a chief diplomat and Minister of Foreign Affairs under Napoleon. The painting eventually passed to Talleyrand’s daughter, Princess Pauline Marie Palma de Talleyrand-Périgord, who married Mario Ruspoli, 2nd Prince of Poggio Suasa. The noble Italian Ruspoli family can be traced back to the 13th century and is renowned for the exceptional art collection it maintained.

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