Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Bite 90: Diego Velázquez - Philip IV in Armour, c. 1628

Philip IV in Armour, c. 1628, oil on canvas, 58 x 45 cm, Prado, Madrid
“Habsburg rulers of Spain conceived of portraiture as a way to represent the appearance of the sitters, not to disguise or improve it. As a consequence, portraits made for the Spanish court rarely deployed an elaborate allegorical or symbolical apparatus. The image of the king was the image of royal majesty; no further elaboration was required.”
                                                                   - Jonathan Brown

The understated approach of Spanish portraiture can be clearly seen in Philip IV in Armour. One of the most realistic portraits of Philip IV, among it's few elements, it prominently shows the characteristic ‘Habsburg lips’, present in all royal Habsburg portraits and a consistent articulation of Philip’s royal lineage, a major source of his legitimacy as king. 

His reserved expression contrasts with a sash, draped decoratively over the gold and black armour, expertly painted in many shades of red and taking up a large portion of the canvas. The uncluttered composition mirrors the king’s broad shoulders with his golilla collar, much simpler than the lechuguillas lace collar previously worn by his predecessors, which he prohibited by sumptuary law in 1623. 

Whereas with Charles I’s armoured portrait numerous symbols are presented to reassert his royal position, with Velázquez’ portrait it is assumed that the visual presence of the monarch alone is enough to convey power and regality.

Brown, Jonathan, ‘Velázquez, Rubens and Van Dyck’ (1999) in Collected Writings on Velázquez