Petrus Christus, Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1470, oil on oak, 29 x 22.50 cm (Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin). In the Google Art Project: http://www.googleartproject.com/collection/gemaldegalerie/artwork/portrait-of-a-young-woman-petrus-christus/324332/.Created byBeth Harris and Steven Zucker.
Art historians generally like to discuss things that they do know, things that they've discovered, things that they're sure of, but so often we don't know much. And that's certainly the case with this stunning portrait by Petrus Christus called only, "Portrait of a Young Woman [Girl]" So let's start with what we do know: we know that this is a young woman, we know who the artist is, we know that the artist is Flemish and the portrait was made around 1470. We of course know it's dimensions: it's quite small, and it's made out of oil and it's on panel, and we know that it's exquisite. And we also know that this portrait is somewhat revolutionary. Petrus Christus was the first artist in Flanders to place his subjects in an actual space, and although there's not much, we do see a bit of molding, a rear wall, and it does place her in space. So, what do we want to know that we don't know about her? I'm really hungry for information; I want to know so much. I want to know who she is. I want to know what she's thinking about. I want to know where she's looking. I want to know what, if anything, she's holding in her hands. [laughs] I want to know who this portrait was made for, who commissioned it, and what was it's purpose. I want to know if this is the first time she's ever worn this fabulous dress. I want to know what that little loop is just over her forehead that peeks out from under her hat. I want to know what she dreams about at night. I want to know if she has any ambitions. I want to know how old she is. But you know what, even though we know so little about this, I still love looking at it.