'High-status' portrait of bearded woman bought by Wellcome Collection

By Maev Kennedy

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On 15 September 1657 the diarist John Evelyn had a conversation with an intelligent, cultured German woman, dressed in the height of fashion, who played beautifully to him on the harpsichord. She also had “a most prolix beard, & mustachios, with long locks of haire growing on the very middle of her nose, exactly like an Island Dog.”

The Wellcome Collection in London has acquired a remarkable portrait painted a few years before their meeting, which shows Barbara van Beck exactly as Evelyn described her: composed, dignified, wearing a beautiful and expensive low-cut grey silk dress, with a lace collar tied with a scarlet bow, and more ribbons in her hair which was, Evelyn wrote, “neatly dress'd … of a bright browne & fine as well dressed flax”.

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Source: ‘High-status' portrait of bearded woman bought by Wellcome Collection