Very few female portraits are found in the Spanish collections. Their painters were seldom brought in professional contact with the beauty of high-born women—the finest touchstone of professional skill—and their great portrait painters lived in an age of jealous husbands, who cared not to set off to public admiration the charms of their spouses. Velasquez came to reside at court about the same time that Madrid was visited by Sir Kenelm Digby, who had like to have been slain the first night of his arrival, for merely looking at a lady. Returning with two friends from supper at Lord Bristol's, the adventurous knight relates in his Private Memoirs, how they came beneath a balcony where a love-lorn fair one stood touching her lute, and how they loitered awhile to admire her beauty, and listen to her "soul-ravishing harmony." Their delightful contemplations, however, were soon arrested by a sudden attack from several armed men, who precipitated themselves upon the three Britons. Their swords were instantly drawn, and a fierce combat ensued; but the valiant Digby slew the leader of the band, and finally succeeded in escaping with his companions.

Of the sixty-two works by Velasquez in the Royal Gallery at Madrid, there are only four female portraits; and of these, two represent children, another an ancient matron, and a fourth his own wife! The Duke of Abuquerque, who at the door of his own palace waylaid and horsewhipped Philip IV., and his minister Olivarez, feigning ignorance of their persons, as the monarch came to pay a nocturnal visit to the Duchess, was not very likely to call in the court painter to take her Grace's portrait. Ladies lived for the most part in a sort of Oriental seclusion, amongst duennas, waiting-women, and dwarfs; and going abroad only to mass, or to take the air in curtained carriages on the Prado. In such a state of things, the rarity of female portraits in the Spanish collections was a natural consequence.