17th Century Spanish Royal Portraits, Painters & Fashion


The goal of this class is to introduce students to the different types of 17th century Spanish portrait painters and paintings focusing on the three monarchs and their families that ruled throughout the Baroque period. We will also take a look at the changing fashion trends of their royals as we move through the era. Please make sure that you read the introduction to this class before you attend the class.


Report by Karla Darocas (KarlaDarocas.com)

The 17th century in Spain was ruled over by three monarchs - Felipe III, Felipe IV and Carlos II, who became the last representatives of the Habsburg dynasty.

The 17th century is classified as Spain’s Golden Age of Arts & Letters, a time of great cultural splendor that was marked by deep economic and social despair. The once greatest power in the world was loosing its European dominance.

Felipe III (1578-1621) was the son of Felipe II and his fourth wife, Ana de Austria. He married his second cousin Margaret of Austria-Styria (1584-1611). The most representative court painter of his reign was Pantoja de la Cruz , who carried out a series of royal portraits.

Felipe IV (1605-1665) was King of Spain from 1621 until his death. He married in 1615 with Isabel de Borbón , daughter of Enrique IV of France and his second wife María de Médicis. After the death of Isabel, new nuptials were arranged in 1647 with his niece Mariana de Austria. Felipe IV was a man of great culture and a patron of the arts. To the pain and suffering of his people, Felipe grew the largest collection of paintings in Europe in his time. He collected hundreds of paintings for the Crown palaces, most of them on display or currently kept in the Prado Museum.

Diego Velázquez was his court painter who also became the first curator of the royal collections, advisor to the gallery of the Alcázar and director of the royal collection. The portraits that he carried out of the royal family were numerous: official portraits of Felipe IV and Mariana of Austria, princes Baltasar Carlos and Felipe Próspero, of the princes Carlos and Fernando and the princesses María Teresa and Margarita Teresa. 

Princess Margarita Teresa, the only daughter of Felipe IV and Mariana of Austria to reach adulthood became well known because she is the central figure in the group portrait of Las Meninas. Court painter Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo , Velázquez's son-in-law and successor, took over the painting of her portraits from an early age. She was betrothed to Emperor Leopoldo I as a child.

Charles II (1661-1700) became heir to the crown at 4 years old when his father died. He was the last king of the House of Austria. He was stunted, sickly, and sterile.  During his brief era, Velázquez was succeeded by chamber painter Juan Carreño de Miranda, to whom we owe various portraits of Carlos II and his mother Mariana.

17TH C portrait painting became a very important way to record the status and position of the Royals. In a society dominated increasingly by secular leaders in powerful courts, images of opulently attired figures were a way to affirm the authority of important individuals.

Spanish portraits came in a variety of styles. 

The bust or head-and-should types were simple compositions with hardly any adornments, conveying the intense humanity and dignity of the portrayed. Spanish bust portraits were known for their austerity, starkly showing the soul of the sitter with a face that reflected a hint of  skepticism and fatalism towards life. All features of the model were executed in the Baroque naturalistic style away from the classicism of the Renaissance. It was important to show the realism of the sitter and not an idealized version. 
It became the dominion of the artist to successfully execute a portrait with a mastery of the human face as well as body anatomy. Artists needed to be knowledgeable about the underlying bone and tissue structure to make a convincing portrait.

The other depictions of portraits were the "full-length" (the whole body) and "half-length" (from head to waist or hips).  In these portraits the artist could show off their painterly skills with demanding brush strokes and blending that created elegant details and fabrics. Here we can observe the evolution of their refined fashions, both feminine and masculine, with stylistic ideas inherited from the previous century as well as the introduction of the foreign French fashion trends.

Group portraits were also produced in great numbers during the Baroque period. 

It became customary for Spanish kings and their relatives to exchange kinship portraits to show their faces and well being to others. Portraits were also used to demonstrate their appearance in marriage negotiations.