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Portrait of an unknown Lady in a white dress
General01 September 2023

Objects in Spotlight – Portrait of an Unknown Lady in a White Dress

Oil on panel portrait, attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, c.1595 (Accession No. 60028)

Standing and staring straight at the viewer, an exquisitely dressed woman holds a fan in her right hand and smiles.  Although it is unusual for 16th-century sitters to be shown smiling, Gheeraerts the Younger painted women with this expression on more than one occasion.  The attribution to Gheeraerts is not confirmed, however, and the sitter is also not known.  It has been suggested that she could be the Countess of Southampton, Elizabeth Vernon, who was a maid of honour to Elizabeth I. 

What is certain is that the young woman depicted is of extremely high status, wearing the latest opulent fashions of the 16th-century court.  The pearls around her neck, which her left hand draws attention to, would have been recognised at the time as being a symbol of her purity.  The distinctive red and black shell frame was bought at the same time as the portrait by Lady Baillie in October 1953.  It is one of the most stunning and one of the most mysterious portraits in the Leeds Castle Foundation collection.  

Each week we will be highlighting our ‘Objects in Spotlight’ within the Castle as part of the Festival of Craft & Design.