Eworth’s Mary Neville, Lady Dacre (1555-8)

Little is known of Hans Eworth, a Flemish artist, practicing in England in the mid-sixteenth century but his most famous portrait of the widow Mary Neville with her late husband framed in the background is a classic statement on the concept ‘every painter paints himself.’

‘Imagine her naked’, one scholar asked in the catalogue of the 2008 exhibition, Renaissance Faces, and he was right without knowing why.1 It’s not possible. Mary Neville is a gigantic mother goddess in the artist’s mind, holding a quill pen like the great master himself about to make a sketch on the book before her. 

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Captions for image(s) above:

Eworth, Mary Neville, Lady Dacre (1555-58) Oil on oak. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

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Or, imagine this, she might be about to draw the desk with its book and ink-pot in the foreground from the other side of the frame. Thus all is inverted. The desk, which might as easily belong to the artist in the studio while he paints her, becomes the painting-in-process, the little portion she has completed, while she paints him

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Captions for image(s) above:

Detail of Mary Neville, Lady Dacre

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The painting in the background, not out of place on a studio wall, completes the picture. A female artist with an image of her late husband behind her, a god in her mind, inverts the real-world situation of the male artist, Hans Eworth, with an image of his female muse in front of him. Either way the artist spells out the androgynous nature of his own mind and how all is inverted: we create our own reality.

More Works by Eworth


1. Lorne Campbell, Renaissance Faces (London: National Gallery) 2008

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