The city of Antwerp was at one time famous for its commercial and industrial interests, and it was besides an important centre of art. Here in the seventeenth century lived the two foremost Flemish painters, Peter Paul Rubens, and Anthony Van Dyck. The Flemish industries had chiefly to do with the making of beautiful things. Among them were tapestries in rich designs and many colors, used for wall hangings. The Flemish weavers were also skilled in making fabrics of silk and velvet. Most famous of all were their laces, patiently wrought by hand, on pillows, and unrivalled throughout the world for delicacy of workmanship. Glass and porcelain were also among their industrial products. In Antwerp, too, was the printing establishment of Plantin, from which issued many learned works in French and Latin.

Among refined people like these, who not only loved beautiful things but could afford to buy them, the art of painting was highly esteemed. There was every encouragement for a young artist to pursue this calling. Rubens was already a great painter when Van Dyck began his art studies, and the older man gave the younger much helpful advice. At his friend's suggestion Van Dyck travelled several years in Italy, where he was inspired by the works of the Italian masters of the preceding century. Returning at length to his native city, he set up a studio of his own, and soon became a favorite portrait painter among the rich and fashionable classes. Not a few of his sitters were foreign sojourners in the Netherlands, especially the English. The lady of our illustration is quite plainly of this nationality, though she is dressed according to the Flemish modes.

It appears that an English merchant named Wake was established in Antwerp at this time, and it is supposed that this may be his daughter. There are also reasons for connecting the portrait with one of a certain English baronet named Sheffield, who was likewise in Belgium in this period. Miss Anna Wake, we may conclude, had married into the Sheffield family when this portrait was painted. These names, however, are mere guesses, and, even if they were verified, would tell us no more of the lady's story than we can gather from the picture. Her life was probably not of the eventful kind which passes into history. The luxuries of her surroundings we may judge from her rich dress and jewels; the sweetness of her character is written in her face.

She shows us perhaps more of her inner life than she intends. Her fine reserve would naturally shrink from any sort of familiarity. Yet as she stands quietly before the portrait painter, left, as it were, to the solitude of her own thoughts, her spirit seems to look out of the candid eyes.

PORTRAIT OF ANNA WAKE Royal Gallery, The Hague
Royal Gallery, The Hague

Her dignity and self-possession make her seem older than the twenty-two years with which the inscription on the portrait credits her. But the face is that of one who has just passed from maidenhood to young womanhood. Life lies before her, and with sweet seriousness she builds her air castles of the future. Thus far she has been carefully guarded from the evil of the world, and her heart is as pure as that of "the lily maid of Astolat." For social triumphs she would care nothing, though her beauty could not fail to draw an admiring throng about her. Vanity and coquetry are altogether foreign to her nature. She is, rather, of a poetic and dreamy temperament. Perhaps it is the fragile quality of her beauty which gives an almost wistful expression to the face. She is like a delicate flower which a chill wind would blast.

The costume interests us as a study of bygone fashions, and is painted with exquisite care for detail. The pointed bodice is as stiff as a coat of mail, like that so long in vogue at the court of Spain. Perhaps the Spanish occupation of the Netherlands may have brought the corset with it. Certainly it is not conducive to an easy carriage; only a graceful figure like this could wear it without awkwardness. The slashed sleeves are made full, and tied at the elbows with bows. The wide collar and cuffs are edged with beautiful Flemish lace points. The feather fan and the strings of pearls about the throat and wrists might form a part of any modern costume. It strikes us, however, as a very singular fashion for a lady to wear a large seal ring on the thumb.

We notice how simply the hair is dressed, brushed loosely from the face and knotted at the back, with a jewel gleaming at one side. Compared with the elaborate coiffures worn by great ladies in some historical periods, this style is delightfully artistic. Altogether the entire manner of dressing is perfectly suited to the wearer.