When I first looked at the portrait painted by Quinten Massys, Grotesque Old Woman (also referred to as The Ugly Duchess and Old Woman), I was quite saddened. Initially, as I studied the portrait, I notice the enlarged clavicle, the masculine jaw bone, the disproportioned area between her septum and mouth, and her very broad and deformed looking forehead. While I felt she was odd looking, Grotesque Old Woman did not strike me as being that of a grotesque woman. Instead, I saw a woman who seemed desperate to relive her past.
As I began delving deeper into the details of the painting, I began to notice the details of her costume. The fine craftsmanship of her headdress and veil resembles something a younger maiden may have worn. Her horned, ornate headdress appears to be that of a woman who might have possessed power or status. It occurred to me that this woman was possibly quite beautiful in her youth and that she was posing for her portrait, reminiscing of a time she longed for again. In her right hand she holds a red flower, which quite possibly was to add a gentler, more feminine quality to her appearance, along with the flowing white veil on her headdress. Massys includes, in detail, her fingers and hands being those of an older woman and he adorned her bony, wrinkled fingers with rings.
By today’s standards beauty is based upon physical aspects of the human form. A few examples of standards of beauty as set forth by our society would be an hourglass shaped figure, long flowing hair, gentle eyes or even an unforgettable smile. Often times we hear references of men as being tall, dark and handsome, while others feel that a person’s laugh can be beautiful or the way a woman’s hips move from side to side as she saunters across the room. A porcelain complexion may be beautiful to some, while others may desire the sun-kissed coloring of suntanned skin.
With respect to this painting I see the delicate and tender way Massys captured the detail...