The Ugly Duchess: Beauty & Satire in the Renaissance Catalogue

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Accompanies the exhibition at the National Gallery, London, 16 March–11 June 2023.


Quinten Massys’ An Old Woman (‘The Ugly Duchess’) is one of the National Gallery’s most recognisable faces. Yet, despite her fame, she remains an elusive figure. In a fresh review of the iconic image, this book unveils the painting’s vibrant Renaissance context and its status as a pioneering work of satirical art, highlighting the period’s complex attitudes towards women, age and normative beauty.


Based on a composition by Italian master Leonardo da Vinci, the painting is considered in light of this artistic exchange and the two artists’ shared experiment in the comic and expressive potential of distorting the human face.


Over the centuries, ‘The Ugly Duchess’ has captivated generations of painters, printmakers and cartoonists, most famously John Tenniel, who borrowed her extraordinary features for his much-loved illustrations of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865). A final chapter traces the eventful afterlife of this seminal image.




Emma Capron is Associate Curator of Renaissance Painting at the National Gallery, London.

Martin Clayton is Head of Prints and Drawings at Royal Collection Trust.

Charlotte Wytema is the Simon Sainsbury Curatorial Fellow at the National Gallery, London.

Colour illustration52
Dimensions270 x 230 mm
PublishedMarch 2023
PublisherNational Gallery Global
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