Take Quinten Massys’s notorious The Ugly Duchess, with her outsize jaw and porcine nose, too deluded to realise how monstrous she looks in a low-cut dress; for centuries, the portrait has been interpreted as a vicious satire on vanity. But when reunited with her other half, in a recent National Gallery show, the rose the duchess holds is seen to be an offering for her husband, who gently reaches out to take it, full of affection. They are a most loving couple.
It is not enough to look at ‘the full picture’. We must look further. And this is why: