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'Highly unusual' 17th century portrait of black and white women as equals saved due to 'outstanding significance'

'Highly unusual' 17th century portrait of black and white women as equals saved due to 'outstanding significance'

The portrait was painted in the 1600s and shows a black and white woman sitting together

A 'highly unusual' painting of great historic significance will not be allowed to leave the UK as it was deemed to be something that had to be 'saved for the nation'.

The painting in question is a 17th century work by an anonymous artist, and the work itself has been hailed as having 'outstanding significance' for the studies of race and gender in Britain in the 1600s.

Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies is a work of art that depicts a black and white woman side by side wearing expensive outfits and jewellery, with beauty marks daubed onto their faces.

The two women in the painting are depicted as equals, posing together with similar fashions and styles, though the intention of the painting appears to be criticising them for wearing the beauty patches.

The patches, made of materials such as silk or velvet, were a popular beauty accessory among the wealthy in the 17th century, but critics thought they were immoral and irreligious.

Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies by an anonymous artist was bought for £220,000 and then £300,000 to stop it leaving the UK.
Compton Verney

Among the patches onto the women's faces are depictions of beauty spots and crescent moons, and it appears as thought the artist was intending to condemn these women for their pride.

An inscription above the two women reads: "I black with white bespotty white with blacke this evil proceeds from thy proud hart then take her: Devill."

And it turns out that the women of the 17th century were also no strangers to getting shamed by society for not adhering to traditional beauty standards of the day.

The painting was sold on 23 June, 2021 at an auction house for £220,000 ($280,000), and the person who bought it applied for a license to export it out of the UK.

Initially it had been expected to fetch between £2,000 ($2,500) and £4,000 ($5,000), but interest in the painting drove the price ever higher.

After it was bought and the buyer intending to export it out of the UK, the British government blocked that move and banned the painting from being sent abroad in the hopes that the artwork would be bought by someone else who planned to keep it in Britain.

The painting will go on display to the public next year at the Compton Verney art gallery, Warwickshire.

The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest, which advises the government minister Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, flagged that it would be a 'misfortune' if such a painting was to be lost.

They said: "The depiction of a black female sitter in a 1650s painting was highly unusual... inviting important debate about race and gender during the period."

A deadline of 9 March, 2022 was set for a UK-based buyer to acquire the painting and it has since been reported by The Guardian that the Compton Verney art gallery in Warwickshire was able to buy it for £300,000 ($381,000).

£204,600 of this money came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) and purchase grants from the Victoria & Albert Museum, while the rest came from a fund from the art gallery itself which had been set up after selling a valuable painting.

Compton Verney's CEO, Geraldine Collinge, said: “The painting fits so interestingly with our collections. We’ve got portraits and folk art, where we’re thinking about different ways of showing people.

"For us, it opens up a conversation about who’s in portraits and why certain people aren’t in portraits.

“We don’t know who the women were. The fact that it’s two women – one is black, one is white – is particularly interesting for us now and they were stories that were deliberately not told.”

Allegorical Painting of Two Ladies will go on display to the public next year after undergoing intensive conservation and study.

Featured Image Credit: Compton Verney

Topics: UK News, News, Art, Weird