© Gemäldegalerie der Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin - Preußischer Kulturbesitz. Christoph Schmidt (CC BY-NC-SA)

Portrait of a Young Girl

Petrus Christus, 1470
Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

This is one of the most arresting portraits painted in the fifteenth century. Unlike many female sitters of the period, the young lady depicted by Petrus Christus does not avert her gaze. Instead, she casts a cool, inquisitive look at the viewer. The confidence of her composure belies her youth and slender build. While symmetry usually defines beauty, here it is the slight upward lean of her left eye that captivates. Her elongated neck, high forehead, and pale complexion are all hallmarks of the era’s courtly ideals. She is dressed in the height of Burgundian fashion of around 1470. The painter evidently relished in the soft modeling of her pale skin and the delicate rendition of her translucent veil, secured to her bodice by a single gilded pin.

Her exact identity remains a mystery, but in addition to the artist’s signature, an inscription on the lost original frame suggests that she might have belonged to the English Talbot family, members of which visited Bruges in the fifteenth century – thus testifying to the international appeal of early Netherlandish painting at the time.

Emma Capron, Associate Curator of Renaissance Painting, The National Gallery, London

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