She strikes a dramatic pose with one hand lightly grasping the blue wrap whilst the other gently tussles her long hair; she has been depicted as both confident and alluring. At first sight it appears to be a straightforward portrait of a woman dressed in fashionable clothing, however, there are several messages conveyed. The direct gaze and the way in which she caresses her long hair is a gesture linked with Renaissance depictions of Venus (and virgins and brides) as she is engaged in her private toilette. In the seventeenth century (and still today) paintings by Titian and his followers of Italian ‘belle’ (beauties) were believed to be portraits of Venetian courtesans thinly disguised as images of Venus. The image borders on the erotic (at least by 17th century standards) portraying the sitter as available and vulnerable and its sexual provocation would have been instantly recognised by contemporary viewers. Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) recorded in his diary that he saw Barbara Villiers at Whitehall “in her haire”, that is hanging loose, “I glutted myself with looking on her”.
This painting offered different layers of meaning to viewers depending on their knowledge of the conventions of art and the reputation of the sitter. Above all, however, the image would have conjured a vision of femininity, intimacy, and beauty. It is a superb example of late 17th century portraiture and is presented in an exquisite good quality carved and gilded antique frame.
Jan van der Vaart (1647-1721) was a Dutch painter and art restorer and collector born in Haarlem, Netherlands. He moved to London in 1674 and painted portraits, landscapes, history painting, religious works, and still life’s. Apart from collaborating with the artist Johann Kerseboom he also worked with William Wissing, who was a pupil and former collaborator of the court portrait painter Sir Peter Lely, in the 1680’s before taking over Wissing’s own studio after that artist’s death in 1687. He retired from painting around 1713, allegedly from poor eyesight, to concentrate on restoration. His graceful style and his modelling and poses were very beautiful. He died in 1727 and was buried in St Pauls Church, London, on 30th March of that year. His nephew, Arnold, continued his restoration business.
Provenance: Private UK collection
Measurements: Height 131cm, Width 106cm framed (Height 51.5”, Width 41.75” framed