My Favourite Painting: Martin Yeoman

'There is a sublime and sensual beauty about all aspects of this painting.'

Martin Yeoman on The Lady with a Fan by Velázquez:

‘There is a sublime and sensual beauty about all aspects of this painting. When I began studying in the 1970s, I fell in love with not only her beautiful face and eyes, but also the drawing of her hands, clearly seen within the white gloves, together with the depiction of extra material on the end of each glove finger.

‘The blue silk bow and the cross from which it hangs are yet more marvels of painting and drawing, the bow being reminiscent of the delicate petals of an iris.’

Martin Yeoman is an artist. His next exhibition will be with Jenna Burlingham Fine Art at Sibyl Colefax & John Fowler, London SW1, from March 17 to April 4

John McEwen on The Lady with a Fan by Diego Velázquez:

The 19th-century French art historian Theophile Thoré-Bürger, famed for ‘rediscovering’ Vermeer, thought this portrait had no rival as the best of Velázquez and of Spanish painting in general.

It was in 1624 that Diego Velázquez was appointed court painter to Philip IV of Spain, in succession to the dead de Villandrando. The resulting demands on his time – the king, alone, accounted for 34 portraits – meant he had little time to paint people apart from the royal family; indeed, he also painted fewer religious pictures than any of his Spanish contemporaries.

It makes this portrait a rare exception. For all its renown, the sitter and even her clothes are the subject of irreconcilable debate. Some say she is the artist’s wife or daughter. Academics incline to Marie de Rohan, Duchess of Chevreuse – a 1638 letter mentioned that Velázquez painted her portrait when she was exiled in Madrid under Philip’s protection.

The notoriously low-cut dress is also a clue, as it was a French fashion of the time and led in Spain by the Duchess. Two years after she left the country, the fashion was banned nationwide, except for prostitutes. Unfortunately, the face here bears no resemblance to her other portraits.

Many aspects of the painting have commended its mastery: the way that highlights make a perfect pattern as they intersect with black and the ribbon and rosary beads relieve an otherwise dull area; the way the apparently random, inconsequential red dot by the ribbon adds surprising warmth to the whole. The portrait was first recorded in the collection of Lucien Bonaparte, a younger brother of Napoleon, and acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1847.