As discussed in the note to lot 16, the group of paintings traditionally associated with the Master of the Female Half-Lengths are now regarded as the output of a workshop rather than a single hand. The present composition fits fully within the format traditionally associated with the Master's oeuvre: a half-length lady at a table, reading a book and with an ornamental cup (traditionally associated with the jar of ointment that was a symbol of the Magdalen). Stylistic grounds, however, do suggest that this work is by a separate hand from that responsible for the Three Women Musicians in the Harrach collection, Schloss Rohrau. If the latter work is regarded as epicentral within the Master's oeuvre, then until such time as the nature of the group is better understood, it seems more prudent to catalogue the present picture as being from the Master's circle, rather than by him in full as it almost certainly would in the past have been regarded.
The present attribution is, therefore, given on stylistic rather than qualitative grounds, and the hand responsible for this picture is not unknown: two other works clearly by the same anonymous artist are recorded in photographs in the Friedländer archive at the RKD, for which information we are very grateful to Suzanne Laemers of the RKD. All three works reproduce the idiosyncratic collar and include ornamental brooches on the subject's chest and highly decorated silver-gilt cups and covers.
This was formerly a part of the celebrated collection of works of art largely formed by Hollingworth Magniac at Colworth Park, Bedfordshire, which was particularly rich in sixteenth-century portraiture. The collection included such works as Hieronymous Bosch's The Mocking of Christ (London, National Gallery), Juan Pantoja de la Cruz's Portrait of Don Diego Gomez de Sandoval y Rojas (Pasadena, California, Norton Simon Museum) and the Portrait of a Man by Corneille de Lyon in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The collection was sold by Christie's in an eleven-day sale in 1892.