A later copy after Gerrit Dou's painting, of even smaller dimensions, in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden (inv. no. 1719; 12.5 x 9 cm.), datable to 'circa' 1635.1
In Dou's original work, and reproduced here in this copy, the artist has portrayed the old woman in merciless detail, her wrinkled skin and toothless mouth depicted without flattery. The fur-lined coat, hat, necklace, and even the pince-nez suggest a certain degree of prosperity, however, and the very fact of her reading reflects her position in prosperous 17th-century Holland, which nurtured a society of more highly educated individuals than almost any other region of Europe at this time.
The subject of an old woman reading was a popular one with Dou and his contemporaries. The tradition may be said to have originated with Rembrandt's 'Portrait of an old woman reading' of 1631, now in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.2 Rembrandt's painting has traditionally been identified as a portrait of his mother, and the close resemblance to the lady in Dou's work has led to the assumption that she may be the same model. Another interpretation is that all these pictures may portray the prophetess Hannah reading devoutly.
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