German School 19th Century
This ambitious cabinet-size portrait miniature, with its complicated composition, would have been an important commission. It alludes to earlier eighteenth-century British portraits by artists such as Joshua Reynolds, who often painted female sitters positioned with allegorical sculpture amidst a classical landscape or interior...
Although the identity of this sitter cannot be confirmed, it was once thought to depict Henriette of Nassau-Weilburg, daughter of Prince Charles Christian, Duke of Nassau-Weilburg and Caroline of Orange-Nassau. Queen Elizabeth II is a descendant of Princess Henriette through Francis, Duke of Teck.
The lady in this portrait is not wearing a wedding ring (which in Germany at this time was worn on the ‘ring finger’ of the right hand). It is therefore unlikely that the subject is Princess Henriette, who married Duke Louis of Württemberg in 1797, several years before this portrait was painted. The subject, however, is certainly of noble birth and is depicted by the artist wearing the latest fashion and surrounded by decorative objects.
It is likely that this portrait was commissioned by the subject’s family on her formal entry into society with the hope that she will find a suitable husband. It was important for women during this period to be accomplished, as can be seen in the present painting by the lyre-guitar on the floor, the music on the chair to her left and the statue of Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom and the arts. Although it is probable that this lady was accomplished, the lyre-guitar that has been illustrated is more likely to have been decorative rather than functional.
As this portrait was once linked with Henriette of Nassau-Weilburg it has been catalogued as being by a German school artist. However, stylistically, it is possible that this portrait was in fact painted by a visiting French artist of the early nineteenth century. In Paris the lyre-guitar was a popular salon instrument from 1780 until 1820.
This ambitious cabinet-size portrait miniature, with its complicated composition, would have been an important commission. It alludes to earlier eighteenth-century British portraits by artists such as Joshua Reynolds, who often painted female sitters positioned with allegorical sculpture amidst a classical landscape or interior.
 Mary of Teck was Francis Duke of Teck’s daughter. Mary of Teck married George V, who was Elizabeth II’s grandfather.
 Six string classical guitars existed at this time and music was written for six-stringed instruments. This lyre-guitar has, unusually, a five-string pegbox.
 Pietro Nocci’s portrait of a Lady with a Lyre Guitar at the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle [B.M.876]. Details accessible online.
 Refer to Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Lady Talbot, Tate [N05640].