Anthony van Dyck (after)
Flemish, British 1599–1641
Rachel de Ruvigny, Countess of Southampton 1758
mezzotint; state ii/iv
Colin Holden Charitable Trust
Mezzotint gained popularity in England and Ireland in the mid-to-late 1700s, the medium’s velvety black and rich brown shades appealing to a concurrent widespread taste for strong contrast of light and shadow, an effect known as chiaroscuro, in oil painting from this time.
McArdell’s print matches the drama of van Dyck’s original portrait of Rachel de Ruvigny seated in the heavens. The ethereal setting is thought to represent her self-perceived triumph over the mortal world – vestiges of which are represented by the cryptic clear glass orb upon which her arm rests and the skull visible underneath the hem of her satin gown.