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16th century painting could be a portrait of a cross-dressing man
16th century painting dubbed The Old Duchess for 150 years could just be a portrait of a cross-dressing man, new research says
- Quentin Massys’ well-known portrait ‘An Old Woman’ could be a ‘play on gender’
- The painting thought be created in 1513 hangs in the National Gallery in London
It’s the satirical 16th Century portrait that inspired Sir John Tenniel’s illustration of The Duchess in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
But despite being dubbed ‘The Old Duchess’ for more than 150 years, it seems that Quentin Massys’ An Old Woman could well be a portrait of a man.
A new assessment of the well-known portrait by the Flemish artist, that hangs in The National Gallery, has thrown up the possibility that the subject could be a male transvestite.
According to new research, the oil on oak painting, thought to have been created around 1513, could have been a ‘play on gender.’
‘Yes, she is most likely a he,’ Emma Capron, curator of forthcoming exhibition, The Ugly Duchess: Beauty and Satire in the Renaissance, told The Observer.
According to new research, the oil on oak painting, thought to have been created around 1513, could have been a ‘play on gender’ (pictured: Quentin Massys’ An Old Woman (The Ugly Duchess) )
‘A cross-dresser as a play on gender. We know that Massys was very interested in carnivals, where men would impersonate women.’
While subject of the portrait has a grizzled face, they are also dressed in feminine clothes and have cleavage on show, which Miss Capron said is a ‘Massys fantasy.’
Despite their appearance, the sitter was always thought to be a woman. More recent speculation suggested the subject could have a deformity or suffer from a disease such as Paget’s.
‘It’s not Paget’s, nor any of the other suggestions like dwarfism or elephantiasis. I’m really reluctant, too, to have doctors going around galleries and giving diagnoses,’ said Miss Capron.
The painting is widely acknowledged to be satirical with most assuming it to be a comment on society’s obsession with maintaining a youthful ideal of beauty into old age.
The well-known portrait by the Flemish artist, dubbed ‘The Old Duchess’, hangs in The National Gallery in London
The subject holds a red budding flower, thought to symbolise engagement.
The painting will be reunited with Portrait of an Old Man, the other half of what is thought to have been a diptych, for the new exhibition at The National Gallery, which starts on Thursday.
It was previously held in a private collection in America.
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