Alice Spawls is an editor at the London Review of Books.

IN THE REVIEW

Portraits Put to Use—and Misuse

Anthony van Dyck: Venetia, Lady Digby, on Her Deathbed, 1633

The Face of Britain: A History of the Nation Through Its Portraits

by Simon Schama
Venetia Digby hadn’t been feeling unwell. She had gone to bed behind velvet curtains, as on every other night, wearing a cap to keep her curls in place. It was May Day, 1633, and the girls of Clerkenwell were gathering to dance their ribbons around the maypole. Sir Kenelm Digby …