Juan de Miranda[?], Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Spanish, c. 1680-1714. Palacio de Bellas Artes, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a Mexican intellectual who was born in 1648 and died in 1695. She was a poet, philosopher, and composer, and gained a considerable reputation during her own lifetime.

This portrait, usually attributed to Juan de Miranda, is thought to have been painted during her life or shortly afterwards, perhaps as early as the 1680s. She wears the habit of the Jeronymite order of nuns in Mexico City, including an escudo (the painting she wears around her neck), which appropriately enough depicts the Virgin reading. She is shown at her writing-desk, with three of her own works stacked by the inkwell, and her library on the shelves behind including texts by Aristotle, Natale Conti, and St Augustine.

The portrait takes the conventions of the ‘scholar in his study’ genre, but centres Sor Juana as the commanding intellectual presence, hand poised in the act of writing. The study, it turns out, is not necessarily or inevitably a male space.