A 16th-century painting dubbed The Old Duchess for 150 Years may just be a portrait of a cross-dressing man, according to new research.
- The well-known portrait of Quentin Massys ‘An Old Woman’ could be a ‘genre game’
- The painting thought to have been created in 1513 hangs in the National Gallery in London.
It is the 16th century satirical portrait that inspired Sir John Tenniel’s illustration to The Duchess in Alice in Wonderland.
But despite having been dubbed ‘The Old Duchess’ for over 150 years, it seems Quentin Massys’ An Old Woman might as well be a portrait of a man.
A reappraisal of the well-known portrait of the Flemish artist, which hangs in The National Gallery, has raised the possibility that the subject is a male transvestite.
The oil painting on oak, believed to have been created around 1513, may have been a “genre play,” according to new research.
“Yes, most likely it’s him,” Emma Capron, curator of the upcoming exhibition, The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance, told The Observer.
The oil painting on oak, believed to have been created around 1513, may have been a “genre play” (pictured: An Old Woman (The Ugly Duchess) by Quentin Massys) according to new research.
‘A transvestite as a gender game. We know that Massys was very interested in carnivals, where men posed as women.’
While the subject of the portrait has a grizzled face, they are also dressed in feminine clothing and have exposed cleavage, which Miss Capron said is a ‘Massys fantasy’.
Despite her appearance, the model was always thought to be a woman. The most recent speculation suggested that the subject might have a deformity or suffer from Paget’s-like disease.
It’s not Paget’s, or any of the other suggestions like dwarfism or elephantiasis. I too am very reluctant to have doctors go around the galleries and give diagnoses,” Ms Capron said.
The painting is widely acknowledged to be satirical and is assumed by most to be a comment on society’s obsession with maintaining a youthful ideal of beauty into old age.
The well-known portrait of the Flemish artist, nicknamed ‘The Old Duchess’, is on display at the National Gallery in London.
The subject holds a budding red flower, believed to symbolize commitment.
The painting will be reunited with Portrait of an Old Man, the other half of what is believed to have been a diptych, for the new exhibition at the National Gallery, which begins Thursday.
It was previously in a private collection in the United States.