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Portrait of a Boy in Fancy Dress
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Nicolas de Largillière
French, about 1710 - 1714
Oil on canvas
45 1/4 x 57 1/2 in.
71.PA.69

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Dressed in a fanciful Roman costume, a young boy with blond hair and blue eyes poses before an enigmatic landscape. Facing frontally, he twists his torso in order to hold and stroke his dog. Both the boy and the animal watch a goldfinch with outspread wings perched on a thornbush. Although the young sitter's identity is unknown, he is presumed to be a member of the French royal family.

Nicolas de Largillière positioned his figure before an atmospheric landscape and used fluent brushwork, rich autumnal colors, and exquisite treatment of draperies. All these characteristics betray his training in a Flemish late Baroque style heavily indebted to Anthony van Dyck.

The inclusion of elaborate symbolism also reflects a Baroque sensibility. The child's costume refers to nobility, his pet dog to fidelity, and the thornbush to the Crown of Thorns. Through an extended series of connections, the goldfinch functions as a symbol of the Passion: goldfinches eat seeds from the thorny thistle, another reminder of the Crown of Thorns, and the red spot on their breast is a further reminder of Christ's bloody death.