Three Young Girls,,/em> ca. 1620
Oil on panel
33 1/2 x 46 in. (85 x 117 cm)
These three unidentified sisters are dressed in matching outfits, a sort of family uniform, albeit an expensive and fashionable one. They wear the new taste for low necklines and high waists. Their scarlet damask dresses are exquisitely decorated with yellow-toned accessories and feature yellow-lace décolletage edgings, standing collars, and ruffs, as well as yellow braiding, silk ribbons, and bow belts; the girls wear matching yellow-lace hair bands. Yellow lace was introduced in around 1610 and remained in fashion for about ten years, helping to date the picture. The color coordination extends to the jewelry: two of the girls wear red and yellow coral bracelets, and all three have red coral hunting-horn earrings. The horn is a heraldic motif, suggesting that the girls come from an important landowning family.
The sisters, with their fair skin and rosy cheeks, are a picture of beauty. Their gray-blue eyes are as jewellike as the diamonds of their gold three-drop pendants. Each girl's hair--golden for the youngest, auburn for the middle, and tawny for the eldest--is brushed in the same style and contains an arrangement of fresh flowers representing symbols of spring, childhood, and fertility. The two youngest have marigolds set against a sea of blue hyacinths, with white antennaelike periwinkles; the eldest wears a red carnation and a white-feather plume.
It is hoped that further research will help to identify these three young girls and also reveal the significance of the various objects that they are holding. Traditionally in art, ripe fruit has represented male and female fecundity. Taken with the doll of a grown-up woman held by the youngest child and the ring worn by the middle girl, the grapes and the pears may be symbols of the sisters' future roles as mothers and wives.
Lt. Col. R. A. Cooper, DSO, Knightstone; Sotheby's, London, March 18, 1981, lot 48; private collection, U.K.; Sotheby's, London, November 13, 1996, lot 11
Exhibited: Sotheby's, Childhood Exhibition, January 1988, no. 3
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