A woman thinking outside her box

Circle of Robert Peake, Portrait of a Lady, c. 1619
Adopting the conventional Renaissance pose of melancholic meditation, the young woman rests her head on her left hand.
At the same time, she rebels against the constrictions of mortality, and expectations of how young women should behave and think.
Her right hand reaches out of the frame, in the style of Baroque trompe l’oeil, challenging the observer’s perceptions of reality, and testing the limits of her own and the artist’s power.
She is forever in transition between two states, dabbling her fingers in eternity.
It’s only a game, a flirtation, a harmless trick to beguile us all – or is it? Though she appears so prim and proper, purse-lipped and passive, her gaze is directed out at you and me, not inwards.
She’s reflecting melancholically about us, not herself.
“Don’t tell me what to do. Don’t tell me what to feel and think. You don’t know me, though you think you do. I’m coming out of this frame you’ve put me in. There’s lots to do in the world out there. What about you? What are you doing? What have you done? Take my hand, and I’ll be with you, now and always”.
So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Shakespeare, Sonnet 18 Written between 1593 and 1601, published in 1609.

4 comments on “A woman thinking outside her box

  1. PJR says:

    Yes, Silver Screenings, that’s her look exactly! Thank you. Elizabethan and Jacobean ladies of the privileged classes were portrayed as formidable, and sometimes androgynous, in a way that their demure Victorian descendants were not. She even has a look of Barbara Stanwyck about her.


  2. Her gaze is arresting – and challenging.

    I’ve seen that look many times as a child: “Well, what is it this time? I’m waiting.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. PJR says:

    Bracelets, necklaces and earrings made of intricately woven narrow black silk ribbon were fashionable Jacobean accessories, worn in many portraits. There’s speculation that some were made of human hair, as the Victorians would have loved, two centuries later, in memory of the dead. The young lady’s melancholic pose could be interpreted as an indication she is a young widow, available again on the marriage market or not. Who knows? We can pry as much as we like, but she won’t answer.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. beetleypete says:

    I’m very interested in her wrists, Surely not tattoos? Perhaps they are filigree bracelets of some kind. And though she might be just sixteen or so, she is wearing a wedding ring. Women had to grow up fast, in 17th century England.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    Liked by 1 person

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