This is one of only two secular portraits of a female sitter by Isenbrant recorded by Friedländer (op. cit., 1974). Along with his contemporary Ambrosius Benson, Isenbrant stands as the principal representative of Bruges painting during the first half of the sixteenth century, building on the legacy of Gerard David. Isenbrant purchased his citizenship in Bruges in 1510, having already completed his artistic training elsewhere, and rapidly became a prolific and successful painter in the city. Despite his evident importance and popularity, no documented or signed works by the artist are known today. The master ran a thriving workshop in Bruges, painting not only for private patrons but also for the open market, for which he appears to have produced works for sale at the Bruges Pand (art market) as well as its larger, more prestigious equivalent in Antwerp. This painting’s markedly smooth and firmly modelled flesh tones, along with the softly blended sfumato effect in place of strong outlines are characteristic hallmarks of Isenbrant's style.
The artist painted only a small handful of independent portraits during his career, usually depicting his sitters in three-quarter-profile, looking away from the viewer. This sitter’s identity remains anonymous, but her clothes indicate that she was a member of the wealthy elite. She is dressed in the fashionable style of the affluent bourgeoisie of the late 1520s and 1530s, in a dark green, square-necked gown, cut to reveal the edge of her under-dress and the embroidered top edge of her chemise, with a sheer partlet, edged with gold and black embroidery, covering her décolletage. Her hair is decorously covered by a close-fitting linen hood with a descending veil behind. The sleeves of her dress are fashionably turned back to display closer-fitting undersleeves of figured red velvet. One of the most striking aspects of the sitter’s appearance is her richly jewelled necklace, comprising a large pendant with a central table-cut stone, set in an ornate double mount of gold and silver, surrounded by alternating rubies and pearls, suspended from a simple black ribbon. This type of jewel was highly fashionable during the first-half of the sixteenth century and Isenbrant’s pendant is consistent with similar jewels designed, for example, by the French goldsmith Étienne Delaune (1518/19-1583) and those included in a Jewellery Book by Hans Holbein the Younger (London, British Museum). The ostentation of the sitter’s pendant necklace is offset by the simplicity and relative sobriety of her dress. Despite this, dark clothing was in fact extremely expensive during the late Middle Ages, and therefore an indication of wealth, since it required large amounts of dye to achieve such a rich, deep colour.
The beautifully rendered lapdog is also indicative of the sitter’s elevated status as a wealthy woman of leisure. Though the breed of the dog is not entirely clear, it is probably identifiable as a Löwchen (lion dog), a breed which traditionally had its back legs shaved in a so-called ‘lion cut’, though this custom is not visible here. The breed was immensely fashionable throughout the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Animals with white coats were highly prized during this period and commanded high prices, since white, along with gold, was placed at the top of the hierarchy of colours, being associated with morality, truth and purity (H. Klemettilä, Animals and Hunters in the Late Middle Ages: Evidence from the BnF MS fr. 616 of the Livre de chasse by Gaston Fébus, New York, 2015, p. 114, note 40). It is possible that this picture once formed a pendant to a portrait of the sitter’s husband, in which context her lap dog would have served as the traditional attribute of fidelity and loyalty. The sitter’s direct gaze out of the panel may counter this suggestion, however, as had her portrait been intended to be displayed alongside that of her husband’s, it is more likely that her gaze would have been directed toward him, rather out toward the viewer.