Standing Woman in a Nun’s Habit (Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia?)

pen and brown ink sketch of standing woman in nun's habit

Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Standing Woman in a Nun’s Habit (Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia?), ca. 1627
Pen and brown ink on paper
6 3/16 × 4 1/4 in. (15.7 × 10.8 cm)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Helen and Alice Colburn Fund

Throughout his career, Van Dyck used pen to record initial ideas for portraits, but judging from the rare extant examples, these studies increasingly lost the level of detail of the earlier sheets. Instead, they adopt the more modest appearance exemplified by this sketch. The format indicates a woman of aristocratic or high ecclesiastical standing, possibly Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia, daughter of King Philip II of Spain and (with her husband) regent of the Southern Netherlands during the early decades of the century. On becoming a widow in 1621, she joined the order of the Poor Clares, and Van Dyck depicted her (albeit not from life) in her nun’s habit in a full-length portrait of 1628 (Galleria Sabauda, Turin).

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