Head Study of a Red-Haired Young Woman Looking Down

oil painting of young woman with red hair, looking downward

Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Head Study of a Red-Haired Young Woman Looking Down, ca. 1618–20
Oil on paper
22 1/4 × 16 3/8 in. (56.5 × 41.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of Mrs. Ralph J. Hines, 1957

Head studies of unknown sitters, an important subcategory of Van Dyck’s early portraits, served as preparatory works that would often be repurposed in historical or devotional compositions. The melancholy young woman shown here provided the prototype for the Virgin in a later painting. Intriguingly, an early biographer also claimed that Van Dyck once recruited his sister Susanna as the model for Mary Magdalene. With her long nose, pallid complexion, and russet hair, the young woman in this sketch does indeed bear a family resemblance to Van Dyck’s own self-portraits.

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