This must be one of the most striking studies in ugliness in Western painting. An elderly woman with a very short nose and an exceedingly long upper lip rests one hand on a marble parapet.
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Her skin is pimply and wrinkled, and she seems to have lost her teeth. In spite of her hideous appearance, she is elegantly and aristocratically dressed, although by the time this picture was painted her clothes would have been many years out of date. They are satirical portraits, mocking the vanity of the old and ugly who dress and behave as if they are still young. The woman is an elderly temptress, offering her partner a rosebud, which itself has sexual connotations; her exposed breasts are a parody of the temptations of the flesh, and the horns on her headdress are devilish.
Folds of skin hang loose around her jaw and neck, and she seems to have lost all her teeth. Her skin is pimply and marked with broken veins, and hairs spout from the wart on her cheek. Her ears stick forwards and her forehead bulges. She is, however, elegantly and aristocratically dressed — although by the time this picture was painted in the early sixteenth century her clothes would have been many years out of date.
Her large wrinkly breasts are forced upwards by her tightly laced dress, and she holds the bud of a red rose in front of her cleavage. Her hair is concealed in the horns of a heart-shaped bonnet, over which she wears a white veil held in place by a large gold brooch decorated with roses and set with pearls and a diamond. Both are wearing fanciful adaptation of Burgundian fashions of the early fifteenth century, and the Old Man is very like a portrait of Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy.
Various mature identities have been suggested for the pic, none entirely convincing. The painting and its pair seem rather to be satirical portraits, mocking the vanity of the old and ugly who dress and behave as if they are still young. The woman is an elderly temptress, offering her partner a rosebud, which itself has sexual connotations; her exposed breasts are a parody of the temptations of the flesh, while the horns on her headdress are devilish. Quinten Massys shared his interest in the bizarre with his contemporary, Leonardo da Vinci, who made many studies of grotesque he; the two seem to have exchanged sketches.
It was once thought that The Ugly Duchess might have been a copy of a lost Leonardo, as two drawings of an old woman by followers of the artist are superficially similar Royal Library, Windsor Castle and New York Public Library. The drawings show a differently proportioned and mature plausible pic and throat, however. Technical analysis confirms that the painting is an original, not a copy.
Infrared reflectograms have revealed a good ugly of underdrawing. That for the face is carefully done, whereas that for the clothes and other elements is uglier and more sketchy. For the face, the artist may have carefully followed a preliminary drawing but made several changes.
The eyes were drawn twice — they were moved slightly up and to the right — and the painted chin, neck and mature ear are smaller than in the underdrawing. Her right shoulder was also redrawn in its present painted place and both hands are differently posed. Several idiosyncrasies of the painting technique support attribution to Massys himself. The paint is worked in many places wet-in-wet and has been dragged and feathered. The mottled areas of her flesh were achieved by spotting the basic pink with red and white dots, dashes and blotches.
The skill of the brushwork is clear if you look very closely at the filigree of the brooch, where at least five shades of pic, ugly, pink and yellow are found, and where a paint containing mainly lead-tin yellow is fairly heavily impastoed. The two horns of the headdress were rendered by different methods. They may have been done by different assistants, or perhaps Massys discovered another way of executing the patterns which he preferred to the first.
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It might be a worked-up sketch which the artist inscribed and dated when a purchaser, perhaps unexpectedly, took an interest in it. and download a high-resolution image for reproductions up to A3 size from the National Gallery Picture Library.
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Toggle fullscreen Zoom in. Scroll down. More paintings by Quinten Massys. Showing 6 of 10 works. The Crucifixion. This is the aftermath of the Crucifixion. Christ hangs from the Cross, dead or near death. On the left Joseph of A This paintings shows the Virgin as Queen of Heaven: she sits on a gilded throne and two angels hover above her, about to place an extraordinarily delicate crown on her head. The throne is decorated with red and green enamel or glass, and rests on the dais of a small Gothic church.
The infant Chri Room The Virgin Mary is seated on a marble and porphyry throne within a church; an opening on the left le to a landscape.
The infant Christ squats on her lap, and two saints kneel on either side: Catherine of Alexandria on the left and Barbara on the right. The naked child, wrapped in a white cloth, Follower of Quinten Massys. The panels in this triptych painting in three parts show a garden with fruit trees, cypresses and other, unidentifiable trees planted in careful rows.
Daisies, buttercups, violets and lilies of the valley carpet the foreground. In the centre panel, we see an elaborate building filled with dazzli Gallery A: Paintings A Donor.
Workshop of Quinten Massys. A brown-haired man, dressed in black robes trimmed with brown fur, prays over a book that rests on a raised flower bed. Christ gazes directly out at us from this small panel. Raising his right hand in blessing, he holds in his left hand a glass or crystal orb, decorated with gold bands set with pearls.
On top of the orb is a jewelled gold cross and Christ wears a brooch set with precious stones. This is Christ as S Diptych: Christ and the Virgin. These are workshop copies of originals painted by Quinten Massys towards the beginning of his career. His workshop then continued to pr Saint Luke painting the Virgin and Child. A man sits in a luxuriously furnished room, painting a picture. This is Saint Luke, patron saint of painters and physicians.
Many of the objects around him refer to these professions, and his symbol, the ox, lies at his side. The picture is full of information on how Renaissance painters worked.