Renaissance Portrait of “Ugly Duchess” Likely Depicts a Man



Quinten Massys, “The Ugly Duchess (An Previous Girl)” (1513) (picture by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Flemish painter Quinten Massys’s “The Ugly Duchess (An Previous Girl)” (1513) could have truly been portraying a person all alongside. In mild of the sixteenth century-painting anchoring an exhibition at the National Gallery in London that opened final week, curator Emma Capron believes that “she is almost certainly a he,” citing the determine’s bone construction and dated equipment in addition to the context of the artist’s inspirations.

It was lengthy believed that the topic of the portray was certainly a lady suffering from Paget’s Disease. The telltale steep higher lip, elongated chin and jaw, and wrinkled pores and skin together with the topic’s dated escoffion (Medieval horned headdress for feminine aristocrats) are the options that impressed Sir John Tenniel’s character illustration for the Duchess from Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Capron refuted the claims that the Duchess was a lady affected by any form of affliction and referenced Massys’s fascination with carnivals, the premium location for cross-dressers and gender-benders on the time.

Illustration by John Tenniel, printed in 1865 in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (picture by way of Wikimedia Commons)

“It’s not Paget’s, nor any of the opposite solutions like dwarfism or elephantiasis,” Capron defined to the Guardian when speaking concerning the new analysis surrounding the Duchess. “I’m actually reluctant, too, to have medical doctors going round galleries and giving diagnoses.”

The Duchess was reunited with its most possible righthand counterpart, Massys’s extra practical “Portrait of an Previous Man” (c. 1517), for the primary time for the exhibition. Capron additionally alleged that one other signal of the Duchess’s true gender is hidden within the topic’s positioning, as males are often assigned to the lefthand aspect of Renaissance portrait diptychs to suggest their energy. The male topic in Massys’s “Portrait of an Previous Man” is located on the righthand aspect together with his hand-held up, probably refusing the small rosebud within the Duchess’s hand in an act of rejecting romantic advances upon the belief of the Duchess’s actual identification. This concept stays unconfirmed as the 2 unique frames have been misplaced over time, including a further factor of thriller relating to the meant show of the work.

Quinten Massys, “Portrait of an Previous Man” (c. 1514–1524) (picture by way of Wikimedia Commons)

Whereas the Duchess’s facial options and stature resemble that of a person, one would possibly take into account the beneficiant cleavage Massys depicted as affirmation of femininity. Nevertheless, Capron states that the breasts, “with their brazen and scandalous cleavage, are a Massys fantasy,” circling again to the painter’s proclivity for the weird and satirical.

The Ugly Duchess: Magnificence and Satire is on view on the Nationwide Gallery till June 11. The exhibition seeks to make clear how femininity and womanhood have been portrayed and satirized in the course of the Renaissance interval and the way such perceptions of getting old, look, and price are nonetheless related in the present day. “If you look past the floor it’s possible you’ll uncover a Duchess who can also be subversive, fierce, and defiant — openly flouting the conventions of her day,” the exhibition textual content reads, imbuing energy throughout the Duchess’s portrayal.


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