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In 1633, Henrietta of Lorraine was forced to flee France, disguised as a man, after her younger sister Margaret secretly married Gaston, Duc d’Orleans, brother of the French king Louis XIII. The childless king considered the marriage between his brother and a member of the powerful Lorraine family a threat and so exiled Gaston, Margaret and Henrietta. This portrait by Van Dyck was painted just a few months later, at the court of Archduchess Isabella Clara Eugenia in Brussels, where Henrietta and Margaret took refuge.
The identity of the page is unknown, although there is evidence to suggest there were African servants and musicians at the court of Archduchess Isabella. Though slavery was not legal in the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium) it is possible that the young page was the child of formerly enslaved people, brought to Brussels by Portuguese or Spanish merchants. Van Dyck included black domestic servants in his portraits as a marker of his sitter’s power, wealth and status. The artist emphasises the boy’s position as both a possession and an ‘other’ by painting him with Henrietta’s proprietary hand on his shoulder, dressed in a rich red velvet suit with gold jewellery.
oil on canvas
H 213.4 x W 127 cm
Iveagh Bequest, 1929