Probably painted during Holbein's first visit to England in 1526–8, it has been suggested, very plausibly, that the sitter is Anne Lovell. The starling in the background and the pet squirrel on a chain may have been intended to allude to her name: the Lovell family showed squirrels on their coat of arms and owned a house at East Harling in Norfolk. It is conceivable that the portrait was once part of a pair of husband and wife.
Squirrels were popular pets in England as early as the 14th century. In other portraits of women and children by Holbein pet animals such as a monkey and a marmoset are included; in portraits of men he depicts the falcons used in hunting.
The sitter in the National Gallery painting is unlikely to have posed with either the squirrel or the starling: Holbein probably made separate studies of them in drawings.