Monday, 18 April 2011

Bite 94: Diego Velázquez - Prince Baltasar Carlos as a Hunter, c. 1636

Prince Baltasar Carlos as a Hunter, c. 1636,
oil on canvas, 154 x 91 cm, Bristol Collection, Ickworth
Philip IV was never able to firmly secure a royal lineage and his last legitimate son, Charles II of Spain grew to be a sickly man who died at age 38 having never fathered an heir. In the 1630’s however, Prince Baltasar Carlos (who died in 1646 at age 16) was the heir apparent and was thus celebrated in many portraits by Velázquez including Prince Baltasar Carlos as a Hunter. A companion piece to that of Philip IV as a Hunter it was painted when the Prince was only six.

The exercise of hunting was seen as an essential element of a Prince’s education; a contemporary commentator explains: “In it youth develops, gains strength and lightness, the military arts are practiced, the lie of the land is understood…the sight of the spilled blood of wind beasts…creates generous spirits which constantly scorn the shadows of fear.”

The innocence of the child’s angelic face sits in contrast with the wild terrain of the Sierra de Guadarrama and the long firearm, a harquebus, he holds away from himself. Two dogs are present: one an alert golden greyhound, the other a sleeping white and cinnamon pointer.

It can be argued that Velázquez is able to rely on less to convey the stately regality of the Crown Prince than Van Dyck does. His charming innocence is that much more convincing as a portrait of a young child in the role of a man. At the same time this takes nothing away from the portrait’s role as the depiction of an heir, with the tradition and royal dignity that goes with representing such a role.

Saavedra Fajardo, 1640, trans. Mena Matques 2005, p. 354, quoted in Carr, Dawson W., Velázquez, p. 198.
Kathleen Howard (ed.), Velázquez, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1989.