Portrait of a Woman

This woman’s embroidered cuffs and the gold decorations along her sleeves and headdress attest to her high status and likely association with the court. The portrait’s early history links it to the family of Thomas Cromwell, chancellor to King Henry VIII, and suggests that the sitter might have been a member of that prominent clan. Her intricate medallion depicts the biblical story of Lot and his wife in minute scale: An angel leads the pair away from the destruction of Sodom and tells them not to look back. Lot’s wife disregards the warning and is turned into a pillar of salt— represented here by a large rectangular gem at the center of the jewel. The medallion corresponds with the drawn design by Holbein on view nearby.

Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/98–1543)
Portrait of a Woman, Possibly from the Cromwell Family, ca. 1535–40
Oil on panel
Inscribed on the background, in Latin: At the age of 21
Toledo Museum of Art, gift of Edward Drummond Libbey; 1926.57