This sumptuous portrait of a lady is an outstanding example of Bartolomé González’s portraiture from the period when he served as the anointed court painter to King Philip III of Spain (1578-1621). Although from 1608, the year the artist is first documented, González produced more than a hundred portraits of members of the royal family and their court, few have left Spain and appeared on the international market. This beautifully preserved three-quarter-length, dated 1621, was painted four years after González was appointed Pintor del Rey by Philip. The unidentified sitter’s softly-modelled features, endowed with remarkable humanity in the artist’s rendering of two barely discernible moles, are framed by an extravagant lace ruff, in keeping with the fashion imposed by the royal family. In her left hand she holds a fan, known at the time as an abanillo, one of the most fashionable female accessories in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The sitter’s black dress is punctuated by red and white enamelled buttons with diamonds at the centre. These embellishments, which were invariably kept in jewel cases and sewn on to court dresses when required, are identical to those that appear on the dress worn by Philip's Queen, Margarita of Austria, in González's portrait painted in 1609 and now in the Prado, Madrid.
According to Antonio Palomino (1655-1726), the artist’s first biographer, González trained with Patricio Cajés (1544-1611), but it was his exposure to Italian Mannerism at Philip’s court in Valladolid that also informed the development of his early style. In 1608, he witnessed the will of Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (1553-1608), who he had worked alongside and eventually succeeded in the completion of the royal portraits for the gallery of the Royal Palace of El Pardo, the series commissioned to replace those destroyed by fire in 1604. Following Pantoja’s death, González continued the court tradition of Antonis Mor and Alonso Sánchez Coello, ushering in another golden age of Spanish court portraiture that reached its zenith with Velázquez during the reign of King Philip IV. While his oeuvre is largely dominated by portraiture, González executed a number of religious works, including the Saint John the Baptist, painted the same year as the present picture, and now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest, and a Rest on the Flight into Egypt (1627) in the Prado, Madrid.