Govert Flinck's Portrait of a girl is the quintessential pastoral portrait. While allegorical portraits were painted throughout Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, more were produced in the northern Netherlands than in any other country and the genre has come to be associated with artists such as Rembrandt, Nicolaes Maes, and Ferdinand Bol. Among the characteristics that make Flinck's portrait pastoral are the outdoor setting and the theme of the hunt, suggested by the girl's tasseled spear and the pair of dogs at her side. Men and women in the seventeenth-century Netherlands appear as hunters, shepherds, gods, and goddesses, through these roles aligning themselves both with such pastoral ideals as the simplicity and purity of the rural life and the aristocratic penchant for dressing up. Indeed, Flinck painted portraits of his contemporaries as Diana, Athena, Jupiter, Io, Venus, and Cupid.
At first glance the girl's dress does not appear suited to the hunt yet it is featured prominently and Flinck has taken great pains to describe it in some detail. It is elaborately constructed, from the pale silk under layer, the translucency of the fabric indicated by its interaction with the thicker petticoat underneath, to the green velvet of the sleeves and cape thrown over her left arm. The outermost layer of her dress is made of rich crimson velvet, complete with gold brocade and a laced-up bodice decorated with a teardrop pearl. The girl also wears strands of pearls around her wrist and neck and in her hair as part of an elaborately jeweled and feathered headdress. Her dress is further emphasized by its placement against the dark background of the rocky outcrop and she casts a long shadow as she moves into the sunlit landscape opening out at the right. The vigorous handling of the paint reflects the subject matter, the youth of the girl and the freshness of the outdoor setting, lending the scene a general air of briskness and movement.
While Flinck depicted other young sitters in pastoral dress, few appear with hunting gear or standing within a landscape. In his Portrait of a Young girl with a little dog (Kunsthalle, Hamburg), the sitter wears a similarly elaborate gown and feathered head dress but appears in three-quarter length against a dark background. She most likely poses with a beloved pet as the dog is not the idealized type that appears in Portrait of a girl but a small brown puppy that dozes in her arms. In another painting known as The young shepherdess of 1641 (Louvre, Paris), Flinck placed the sitter against a neutral background within a kind of trompe l'oeil frame upon which she leans, her shepherd's staff falling into the viewer's space. These three portraits illustrate the flexibility of pastoral iconography. In each case, the sitter's dress could serve equally well to indicate a range of Old Testament heroines and the identification of the sitter with either the hunt or the role of the shepherdess was interchangeable to a certain degree, as they both identified the sitter not with contemporary Dutch society but outside and, perhaps, above it, far from the complexity of the city and the court.