Mariana de Austria

c. 1652
Oil on canvas
234 x 131,5 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid


Born in 1634, Mariana was the daughter of the emperor Ferdinand III and María of Austria, sister of Philip IV. From childhood she was destined to marry her cousin, Prince Baltasar Carlos, but when he died her uncle Philip IV, a widower, chose to marry her himself in 1649 in order to preserve the Habsburg hegemony in the courts of Europe.

In this portrait, the only one that Velázquez painted in this large format, the queen wears an elegant dress in black and silver, with red details at the wrists and in the bows and feathers of her wig. The portrait shows a great contrast between the rigidity of the pose and the serious and impassive expression of the model and the technical virtuosity with which it is painted, with a loose, spontaneous brushstroke and great economy of means, but very controlled.

An addition of some 20 cm at the top of the canvas was made to balance this picture with Philip IV Wearing Armour, with a Lion at his Feet. The two works were hung as a pair in El Escorial, before being permanently removed to the Prado in 1845.

Velázquez included in the work a number of symbols indicating the royal status of the sitter: the crimson curtain, first introduced into his pictures after his first trip to Italy; the right hand resting on the back of the chair of state to which she was entitled as queen, and the clock in the background stressing the characteristic prudence of the ruler.

A number of replicas were made in the artist’s studio, and one of these was sent to Vienna in 1653.

Diego Velázquez (Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez)

Seville, 1599 – Madrid, 1660

Trained in Seville, in the studio Francisco Pacheco. Summoned by the Count of Olivares, he moved to Madrid in 1623 and was appointed painter to the king. Dating from this period are a series of royal portraits and a few portraits of unidentified personages. On his first trip to Italy (1629-1631) he painted his two admirable landscapes of the Villa Medici, and on his return radically changed his technique: he stopped modelling forms precisely in favour of suggesting them, exploiting the visual effect to the full, and enriched his palette.

In 1643 he was appointed Valet to the king. On his second trip to Italy (1649-1650) he painted a number of portraits. Dating from his later years dating are several portraits of the royal family, notable for their chromatic richness and excellent handling, characterized by a remarkable syntheticism in which forms, light and volume are defined with a few brushstrokes.