A Genoese Lady with Her Child (c.1623-1625)

Van Dyck, Anthony (1599-1641)

A Genoese Lady with Her Child
Oil on canvas, 217.8 x 146 cm
Cleveland Museum of ArtCleveland

This portrait was a departure from the painting style popular at this time, focusing less on a demonstrative display of wealth and status and more on capturing the essence of the sitter. Although the clothing denotes affluence, this intimate interaction between mother and child transcends class boundaries.

Prior to the 1600s, large, full-length portraits of wealthy clients usually emphasized the trappings of status above any other qualities. The accuracy of the likeness and vivacity of the person remained subordinate to an easily readable sense of the sitter’s power and position in society. Artists such as Van Dyck transformed this tradition, which sent shockwaves through Genoa, instantly changing the direction of elite portraiture in the city. While the elaborate garb of this unidentified sitter and the scale of the image certainly mark her status, the warmth Van Dyck imparted to her face, the drama of the background, and the touching detail of the child spontaneously reaching upward add life, energy, and theatricality to the work. (CMA)