Arts Everyday Living: Anthony van Dyck, the Ultimate Portraitist-Capturing the Spirit of a Toddler

Sir Anthony van Dyck, Maddalena Cattaneo, 1623, oil on canvas, Widener Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Title: Maddalena Cattaneo, 1623

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641)


Her name was Maddelena and definitely no ordinary child. For her parents the Marchese Giacomo and Marchesa Elena Cattaneo were members of the Italian nobility, their home the ancient Mediterranean port of Genoa. In 1623, they commissioned the talented Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck to enhance their wealth and prestige by painting a series of family portraits including one of Maddalena. Dressing their daughter in distinctive clothing: her heavy gown, possibly made of wool, adorned with elaborate sleeves and a flowing apron decorated with delicate lace. While placing in her chubby hands, a shiny looking apple, which according to the website of the National Gallery of Art (where the work currently hangs) is a sign of “both chastity and fertility.”

Yet Maddalena is only two years old, still not quite ready for the Cattaneo’s dynastic expectations. For the ingenious van Dyck reveals the spirit of a toddler: in the irresistible sweetness of her smile (with perhaps an underlying mischievousness?), rosy complexion, heightened by her youthful enthusiasm for life, and the inevitably unkept hair, impossible to comb.








In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.






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