Lady Arundel was the first English woman to be portrayed by Rubens. The decision to depict her surrounded by her entourage on a loggia in front of an Italian landscape with Solomonic columns in the background clearly conveys the strong impression that the Catholic Englishwoman made on the Antwerp master. The larger than life portrait shows the English noblewoman surrounded by three male figures and a large dog. The countess is sitting on a deep red upholstered chair. She wears a softly falling, deep black shimmering robe, her wide sleeves ending just above the wrist decorated with lush, feather-like quilted lace. A lace collar that leaves the neck area completely free attached to the back of her bodice like a fan corresponds to the lace cuffs. As in the portrait painted by Daniel Mytens in 1618, Lady Arundel’s lace looks exceptionally delicate, but while Mytens traces the delicate patterns more meticulously than perceptible by the human eye, Rubens recreates the visual impression of the scene by blurring the details of the lace.
From June 1613 to November 1614, Lady Arundel and her husband had traveled the continent for the first time as ambassadors accompanying the newly wed Elizabeth Stuart. After a stay in Heidelberg, Lady and Lord Arundel traveled on to Italy. They were accompanied by Inigo Jones (1573–1652), who after returning to England redesigned Arundel House inspired by Italian architecture. In 1619 Lady Arundel led the funeral procession at the funeral of Anna of Denmark in 1619 and prepared her second trip to Italy the following year. Her destination was the Veneto, where her sons studied medicine at the University of Padua. In June 1620 she traveled from London to Antwerp, where she met Peter Paul Rubens.
The similarities between the two portraits of Lady Arundel from the hands of Mytens and Rubens are so obvious that it is believed that Rubens used Mytens’ portrait as his primary model. Given the short time Lady Arundel spent in Antwerp, Rubens was unable to paint the entire group and instead only prepared sketched of their heads and of the poses. The composition would then be put together on the large canvas. At the time of Lady Arundel’s departure from Antwerp for Venice, the large format had not yet been completed. The composition was created in her absence on the basis of the portrait, the sketches, and as a result of the personal encounter between Rubens and the English noblewoman.
Lady Arundel’s bright face is the central focus, around which the remaining figures and a large heraldic tapestry are arranged at different distances, surrounding her like planets around the sun. An oversized greyhound takes up a lot of space and is shown from the side, his slim body looking tense while he submissively lays his head on Lady Arundel’s dress. Her right hand rests on the head of the hunting dog, and her left arm on the back of the chair, the hand with the elegantly elongated fingers, adorned with two thin jeweled rings, hanging loosely. Next to it, a childlike servant is holding a precious hunting falcon with a red hood on the right edge of the picture. A second henchman, recognizable by his clothing as a court jester, holds the tapestry with one hand. The people shown and the dog are connected by standing on a precious red oriental carpet around the seated Lady Arundel. Both servants are richly dressed, but while the short servant in the foreground known as Robin is completely wrapped in chimney red velvet decorated with gold borders matching the cap of the jade falcon on his arm, the second servant wears a garment composed of alternating yellow and black fabrics typical of court jesters since the Middle Ages
Although Rubens ’portrait of Lady Arundel is strikingly similar to Daniel Mytens’ painting, the rest of the depiction differs fundamentally from Mytens ’strict and almost rigid composition. In comparison, the dynamic and liveliness of the Antwerp composition created by the incongruent perspective and the mannerist play with the proportions of the figures to each other becomes even clearer. It is emphasized by the bright colors and flowing fabrics. Instead of working with clear structures and meticulous details, Rubens stresses the materiality of light and color. This dissolution of the details creates an impression of momentariness and liveliness of the scene completely opposite to Mytens’ interpretation. Lady Arundel’s porcelain-colored face shines just as brightly as her cleavage, only the cheeks are unevenly reddened. The milk-white skin is framed by the black dress with the deep oval neckline, giving the impression of a marble bust. The forehead, cheeks, mouth and neck are immaculately smooth, glowing with youth and health. The brows stand in a perfect curve over the almond-shaped eyes. Although the elongated but flat nose with the wide nostrils and the implied double chin appear very characteristic and hardly idealized, not a single wrinkle can be seen. Lady Arundel’s brightly shimmering, slightly pink mottled cleavage is adorned by a brooch attached to her bodice.
Behind the countess’s red upholstered chair stands a male figure dressed in dark gold brocade, grasping the backrest with his right hand and his left arm loosely on his hip, while the long-jointed fingers lightly touch the golden hilt of his sword. The man wears a red coat over his shoulder and a millstone collar made of white lace around his neck. His dark blonde hair stands in characteristic swirls over his high forehead and light brows. He sports a goatee while his cheeks are clean-shaven. This figure last interpreted as a portrait of the English ambassador Dudley Carleton appears proportionally smaller than the other figures, which is particularly noticeable in comparison with the dog in the foreground but also with the seated Lady Arundel herself. One possible explanation for this is the successive completion of the parts of the painting. According to Mary Hervey, this figure was not originally part of the composition and was added later. That would explain the marginal position and the difficult to understand decision of giving the elegantly dressed figure noticeably less pictorial space than the elongated body of the dog.
The reduced representation of the man together with the hunting dog, which is unusually large and impressive for female portraits, as well as the woven coat of arms waving in the background in correspondence with the luminous pattern of the Persian carpet give the scene a surreal character. The irregularly twisted columns continue to upset the scene, though partially making up for problems in the proportions of the figures. On the left edge of the picture there is a view of an idyllic landscape with a shadowy castle surrounded by forest standing against a mountainous background that merges on the deep horizon line with the peaceful light blue evening sky and the golden yellow illuminated cloud strips. The development of the painting is documented in for the time of creation extraordinary detail in a letter from Francesco Vercellini, the secretary of the Arundel family, from Antwerp to Lord Arundel in London on July 17, 1620. In the letter, Vercellini describes the negotiations with the Antwerp master and Rubens’ approach. He also mentions the talent of the young Anthony van Dyck, whose name was already well known. The letter became known as the first reference to van Dyck’s reputation and because of Rubens’ quote about Lord Arundel as “uno delli quatro evangelisti e soportator del nostro arte”. Vercellini’s description is as detailed as it is contradictory. On the one hand, he assures Lord Arundel that Rubens completed the portrait in just one day, apart from a few details, which would be completed the following day. On the other hand, Vercellini mentions that a sufficiently large canvas was not available, so that Rubens painted the heads, but sketched the bodies and clothes on paper and only portrayed the dog in full, in order to later assemble the studies and devise the composition on a still to be found large canvas. The process of creating the portrait is documented by a drawing of Robin with the falcon. The corresponding colors for the clothing are recorded in the sketch. In addition, a three-quarter portrait of Lady Arundel from Rubens’ hand is still on display in Barcelona.
The portrayal of Lady Arundel with a dog and a falcon is an unusual choice for a female portrait as they point to the hunt and to a possible allegorical interpretation of the portrait. The key might be found in a print by Odoardo Fialetti dedicated to Lord Arundel. Lady Arundel had been in touch with Fialetti since her first trip to Italy in 1614. Fialetti had dedicated a four-part series of prints based on Pordenone’s frescoes on the facade of Palazzo Tinghi in Udine to Lord Arundel. The sheets show the deities Diana, Venus, Pan and Mars. They document the figures of the frescoes made famous by Vasari’s Vite, today mere shadows over the windows of the first floor of the palazzo. The deterioration of the paintings, which was already becoming apparent at this time, might have been the decisive factor in Fialetti’s documentation of the figures. The depiction on the dedication sheet shows Diana with a dog looking at the goddess, whose appearance and pose are almost identical to Lady Arundel’s dog in the portrait. The fact that Vercellini particularly emphasized the completion of the dog in his letter to Lord Arundel could be due to the couple’s wish to equip Lady Arundel with the attributes of Diana based on the engraving. Such an indication of familiarity with Italian art would show the Countess as a self-confident connoisseur and at the same time reveal the desire for self-expression against the background of ancient mythology. Rubens created a painting of Diana setting out on the hunt around the time of Lady Arundel’s visit. Created between 1617 and 1620 for the Spanish court it shows the goddess like Lady Arundel with a hunting dog leaning against her. The composition was followed by another scene of departure around 1625 in which Diana like Lady Arundel is shown statically and also placing her right hand on the dog that is nestling against her. The dogs in both depictions are almost identical to Lady Arundel’s greyhound. The depiction of the countess with her dog is firmly rooted in an iconographic network in which the goddess Diana is identified by a spotted greyhound in addition to her traditional attributes. The portrait thus alludes to the traveling Englishwoman as goddess of chastity and the hunt. For contemporary viewers it was clear that Lady Arundel was going to hunt in Italy was art.