This is one of the most stunningly lavish portraits ever painted. The sitter is wearing an opulent silvery silk gown laid over with gold embroidered lace which almost entirely covers the bodice and stomacher and falls in a wide border down the front of the skirt and along the bottom edge. Large golden oversleeves hang from her mid arm and fall to the floor while small, stiff ruff-cuffs are worn at the wrist. Her head emerges from a vast white and silver lace cartwheel ruff, the hair dressed high with flowers, sprays of jewels and a white egret feather. She sits on a red, plush high-backed chair with a parrot perched on it. The background is grand, composed of a stone classical arch with ionic pilasters which are inlaid with dark marble, and a large scarlet drape and a strip of sky with clouds.
It was painted by Rubens as a gift on one of his visits to Genoa. It was acquired by William Bankes (1786–1855) in 1840 as a portrait of the Marchesa Isabella Grimaldi. It would appear that the identification of the sitter had been made by the Grimaldi family, which had latterly owned it. When ?rst referred to, in Ratti's guide to Genoa of 1780, the sitter was anonymous. New research into the heraldic motifs of the curtain drawn up above the sitter's head has identi?ed her as Maria Serra, the wife of Niccolò Pallavicino, banker and host to Rubens' employer, Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga I of Mantua.
Where to see this painting?
National Trust, Kingston Lacy
Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, BH21 4EA
If you are planning a visit to see this painting, check with the collection first. Paintings can be moved at short notice.