A drawing of a richly dressed woman holding a prayer, also wearing a pompom-topped cap with a veil.
Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Helena Fourment, 1630-1631, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust) © The Courtauld

Helena Fourment

Peter Paul Rubens

The richly dressed young woman depicted here, holding a prayer book in one hand and drawing back her veil with the other, is Helena Fourment, the daughter of an Antwerp silk merchant, whom Rubens married in December 1630, when she was sixteen and Rubens, a widower, was fifty-three. Rubens shows her near life size, rendered in a delicate combination of subtly handled black, red and white chalks that celebrates both her beauty and his own skill as an artist. Her pompom-topped cap with a veil attached was known as a huyck; as a fashionable outdoor accessory, its presence in a portrait is highly unusual.

Rubens derived Helena’s apparently natural gesture of lifting her veil, expressing modesty, from a celebrated classical sculpture, the Venus Pudica (‘modest Venus’). The drawing thus serves both as a portrait of a real, living woman and as an evocation of ideal beauty and marital virtue. 

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Two men sit across from each other at a table covered with a brown tablecloth, playing cards. Both men wear overcoats and hats, and the man on the left smokes a pipe. They sit inside a wooden building. i Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) The Card Players, around 1892-96, The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

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