How to Read Paintings: The Ugly Duchess by Quinten Massys

Spare a moment to contemplate her extreme looks

Christopher P Jones

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An Old Woman or ‘The Ugly Duchess’ (c.1513) by Quinten Massys. Oil on oak. 64.2 × 45.4 cm. National Gallery, London, UK. Image source Wikimedia Commons

This is one of the most extraordinary paintings in the history of art. But why would an artist choose to paint it?

Popularly known as The Ugly Duchess, the image shows an ageing woman. Perhaps you wouldn’t guess it at first, but this woman has a glint of love in…

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