The painting is closely related to two other Genoese portraits of widows by Van Dyck, one in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin,1 the other in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Strasbourg.2 Although almost none of Van Dyck’s Italian portraits are signed or dated, it is believed that all three of these likenesses were executed early on in his time there. The structure and position of the lady’s right hand here, for example, is particularly characteristic of his Genoese paintings of this date.
While the women in the two aforementioned portraits gaze directly out at the viewer, this lady, a generation older, turns beyond the frame, apparently lost in thought. The sympathy with which Van Dyck portrays the widow in her relative old age is distinctive, and reflects a facility that the artist appears to have had for depicting the elderly even early on in his career. The lady’s veil, collar, and the V-shaped piece that comes down from her shoulders to her stomach, are all remarkably similar to the costume worn by the widow in the Strasbourg painting.
James S. Budgett owned a number of Italian Renaissance paintings, including an autograph version of Granacci’s Rest on the Flight into Egypt and a cassone by Biagi d’Antonio, formerly attributed to Botticelli, as well as an early watercolour by Turner – Geneva and Mont Blanc from the Lake. An undated, late 19th-century receipt in the archives of Budgett’s descendants describes the present portrait among a group of other pictures purchased for 15,000 Italian lire, while the picture still hung in the Borromeo Gallery (now the Galeria Ambrosiana) in Milan.
1 Inv. no. 782C; see Barnes et al. 2004, p. 227, cat. no. II.100, reproduced.
2 Inv. no. 200; see Barnes et al. 2004, p. 184, cat. no. II.38, reproduced.
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