Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) was a German master of the portrait who created many works of art in the English Tudor court of Henry VIII. We know that this woman in a white fur hat was an aristocrat but her identity is not given. She sat for her portrait in London sometime in 1526 or 1527.
She looks away from us with a hint of melancholy. The liveliness and playful dimension of Holbein's masterpiece comes from the gleam in the eye of the squirrel she is calmly holding. Whereas she appears frozen, almost holding her breath, the animal is vividly alive. He is chomping on an acorn between his paws. Note that his tail is resting near her breasts. Some commentators have suggested that it stands for the artist's brush.
In the background, Holbein has painted a starling perched on a branch over her left shoulder. On the other side is an enticing vine.
Life is pulsating all around us in the world of animals and plants. All we have to do is move away from melancholy and rejoice in the wonders that abound right by us. Pondering A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, we remembered a quotation by Ortega y Gasset: "This is not art – but life perpetuated."