free web site hit counter

The Ugly Duchess at the National Gallery review: gives this memorable lady the last laugh

Review at a glance


he words “age-inappropriate” don’t seem to have crossed the mind of the magnificent old woman in Quinten Massys picture from 1513 billed as The Ugly Duchess.

There she is, in a huge head-dress that was frankly medieval to Renaissance eyes, her saggy breasts propped up by her bodice. Her features are practically simian and there’s a most unbecoming smirk on her face as she fingers a tiny rose bud, pointed towards the object of her affections, a dignified elderly man in the picture to her left – almost certainly meant to be seen with her as A Grotesque Couple.

As the National Gallery points out, that position in a double portrait is reserved for the less powerful party, so here we have an inversion of the normal order of things. We’re plainly meant to laugh at this disreputable figure, but I’m not sure we do. She is so very much pleased with herself, it’s hard not to admire her instead.

This tiny exhibition – just five paintings, with some magnificent drawings – is meant to make a point about Renaissance humour, which could be cruel to age and ugliness. A culture obsessed with classical youth and beauty was overlaid on a medieval visual world which rejoiced in the grotesque and subversive.

The National Gallery

Read More

The great practitioner of this humour was Leonardo da Vinci, on whose work the Massys portrait is based. Here we find a couple of wonderful little drawings, copies of Leonardo’s own Old Woman, and it’s plain that Massys was simply following the master.

There are also a couple of fine sketches by Leonardo, showing grotesque oldies: the men are plain but the ladies are strikingly hideous.

Besides poking fun at human vanity, there is a stern message here about behaviour appropriate to age. The standard figure of fun had always been the elderly husband mismatched with a young wife: January and May.

Here we find another take, the wealthy old woman, as lustful as a man. But the interesting thing is that the severe old man whom the Duchess is courting, his hand raised as if to see off the overture, is not particularly repulsive but not memorably ugly either. Both depictions testify to Massys’s brilliance as a portraitist.

For British viewers the afterlife of the Ugly Duchess will always be associated with Tenniel’s illustrations in Alice in Wonderland for the Duchess and the much-abused baby, which found its way to Disney’s Red Queen. Is the grotesque a way to put down uppity women? Almost certainly. And to drive the point home, we have here a print of Albrecht Durer’s A Witch Riding Backwards on a Goat, showing a naked old woman with all the trappings of witchery, both powerful and malignant.

And yet, by contrast with the Ugly Duchess, it’s worth looking at the other double portrait here, by Jan Gossaerts of An Elderly Couple, the husband toothless, the wife dour and modestly dressed. By comparison, the Ugly Duchess looks way more memorable, and has, I’d say, the last laugh.

National Gallery, March 16 to 11 June;

Source link

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
Stream TV Pro News - Stream TV Pro World - Stream TV Pro Sports - Stream TV Pro Entertainment - Stream TV Pro Games - Stream TV Pro Real Free Instagram Followers PayPal Gift Card Generator Free Paypal Gift Cards Generator Free Discord Nitro Codes Free Fire Diamond Free Fire Diamonds Generator Clash of Clans Generator Roblox free Robux Free Robux PUBG Mobile Generator Free Robux 8 Ball Pool Brawl Stars Generator Apple Gift Card Best Android Apps, Games, Accessories, and Tips Free V Bucks Generator 2022 Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Free-Fire Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox Roblox