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Past Exhibition

Mary, Lady van Dyck, née Ruthven

oil painting of woman in blue and white dress, displaying jeweled cross at her wrist, and wearing leaves as hairpiece

Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641)
Mary, Lady van Dyck, née Ruthven, ca. 1640
Oil on canvas
41 × 32 in. (104 × 81 cm)
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

Mary Ruthven came from an aristocratic, if impoverished, family of Scottish Catholics and served as a maid of honor to Queen Henrietta Maria. Van Dyck’s marriage to her in early 1640 marked his social ascent, but the painter died less than two years later, just eight days after the birth of his daughter Justina. Van Dyck’s portrait of his new bride is a sensuously painted autograph work. A cluster of oak leaves bound in Lady van Dyck’s hair may symbolize constancy, while her elegantly splayed fingers call attention to the proscribed Catholic faith that she shared with her husband, symbolized in the crucifix she displays.