Noted for her beauty and intelligence, Venetia Stanley was the wife of the diplomat and author, Sir Kenelm Digby. She was the subject of much scandal, and was said to have been the mistress of Edward Sackville, 4th Earl of Dorset while betrothed to Digby, who was abroad at the time. The tale of the Digby's romance and the restoration of Venetia's virtue are detailed in her husband's memoirs, Loose Fantasies. After nine years of marriage, she died suddenly – quite possibly after drinking her husband's 'viper wine', a concoction reputed to preserve beauty. Digby mourned her loss extravagantly.This allegorical portrait by Van Dyck is thought to have been painted as a posthumous tribute to Lady Digby, who is shown as Prudence, trampling on profane Love and spurning two-faced Deceit. Her doves and the snake she holds allude to St Matthew: 'Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.'
Where to see this painting?
National Portrait Gallery, London
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