The Great British Art Tour: the ugly duchess, warts and all

The Great British Art Tour: the ugly duchess, warts and all

This is one of the most arresting faces in the National Gallery’s collection. A protruding forehead, eyes set deep in their sockets, a pushed-up nose, wide nostrils, a hairy mole, a toothless mouth, a rumpled neck: the unmistakable features of the old woman known as “the Ugly Duchess” defy every conventional canon of beauty. Her attire, especially her bejewelled horned headdress, is lavish. Unconcerned with the decorum expected from elderly women in Renaissance Europe, she has chosen a tightly laced blue dress that emphasises her wrinkled cleavage. But, however fine her clothing, by the time this panel was painted her outfit would have seemed laughably outdated – the clothes were fashionable in her youth, but by 1510 her attire would have made the sitter a figure of ridicule rather than of high fashion. The old woman is wearing this elaborate garment in the hope of attracting a suitor. This was once explicit. The painting has a pendant: a panel depicting An Old Man now in a private collection. Turned towards her companion, the old woman offers him a rosebud – …
More on: www.theguardian.com