Portrait of Mariana of Austria

Portrait of Mariana of Austria
A young lady is shown standing in a black dress with a wide farthingale.
ArtistDiego Velázquez
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions234.2 cm × 131.5 cm (92.2 in × 51.8 in)
LocationMuseo del Prado, Madrid

Portrait of Mariana of Austria is a 1652–53 oil-on-canvas painting by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. Its subject, Dona Mariana (known as Maria Anna), was the daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III and Maria Anna of Spain. She was nineteen years when the painting was completed. Although vivacious and fun loving in life, she is given an unhappy expression in Velázquez's portrait. The portrait is bathed in harmonious shades of black and red, and her face is heavily made up. Her right hand rests on the back of a chair, as she holds a lace handkerchief in her left hand. Her bodice is decorated with jewellery, including a gold necklace, bracelets and a large gold brooch. A clock rests on scarlet drapery behind her.

Mariana had been betrothed to her first cousin, Prince Baltasar Carlos. He died in 1646 aged sixteen, and in 1649 she married her uncle Philip IV, Baltasar Carlos's father, who sought he hand so as to preserve the hegemony of the Habsburg dynasty.[A] She became Queen consort on their marriage, and after her husband's death in September 1665, Queen regent during the minority of her son, Charles II, until he came of age in 1675. Due to Charles' infirmity, she dominated the political life in Spain until her own death in 1696.

Velázquez completed a series of portraits of the Spanish royal family in the 1650s.[1] The paintings are marked by an emphasis on bright hues against dark backgrounds, extravagant head-dress, and fashionably wide dresses. The series culminates with the 1656 Las Meninas, which includes Mariana, and at center-stage, her daughter the Infanta Margarita Teresa. Three full-length versions of the Portrait of Mariana of Austria survive, in addition to half-length variants. The version housed in the Museo del Prado is known to be the original, having been in the Royal collection since its completion. Its date is based on a matching description of a canvas sent to Ferdinand in Vienna on the 15 December 1651.[2][B]


Velázquez, Detail of Las Meninas (1656) showing Mariana's daughter, the Infanta Margaret Theresa. Prado, Madrid
Velázquez, Portrait of Philip IV, 1644. Frick Collection, New York

Mariana was born on 21 December 1634 in Wiener Neustadt, Austria, as the second child of Ferdinand III, Holy Roman Emperor and of Philip IV of Spain's sister Maria Anna of Spain. Maria had six children, of whom only Mariana and two sons survived into adulthood: Ferdinand (1633–1654), and Leopold (1640–1705), who became emperor in 1658.[3] Philip's first wife, Elizabeth of France, died aged 41 in 1644. Their only son, Balthasar Charles, died of smallpox in October 1646, just two months after he had been betrothed to Mariana, then 13 years.[4] His passing left the Spanish king heirless.[5]

Portrait of Prince Philippe Prosper, 1659, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Realising that the hegemony of the Halsburg dynasty was at stake,[6] Philip negotiated that he himself would marry Mariana, his niece. Described by art historian Rose-Marie Hagen as a "ruddy-cheeked, naive girl who loved a good laugh",[7] her day-to-day courtly duties came to weigh heavily on her, not least given the pressure to produce a male heir.[3]

The marriage began to be viewed as successful by the court when she gave birth to a daughter, the Infanta Margaret Theresa. They had two sons. Felipe Próspero was the original heir to the throne, but died in 1661 aged 3 years.[8][C] Charles, the future Charles II of Spain, was born later that year.[9][10]

Mariana had a difficult life. She and Philip had not meet before their marriage, and found little in common. Her marriage presented many difficulties for the Spanish court. He was aged over 40 years, she was 19, and her bid to provide Philip with an male heir in a family whose sons tended to be sickly,[3] included a number of false hopes and miscarriages.[11] When Philip died in 1665 she became regent for Charles, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs.[12][13] As Charles was infirm as a child and youth, suffering from physical disabilities, and because the Spanish monarchy had developed towards female inclusion, allowing significant rights to inheritance and succession, Mariana dominated the political life in Spain until her own death in 1696.[14]


X-ray scan

Velázquez sought to reinvigorate 16th-century court portraiture, which was then, according to art historian Javier Portús, "petrified into a rigid format...with its clichés of gesture and deportment".[15] As an official court portrait, the painting adheres to convention, with every attempt made to convey a sense of Mariana's majesty.[16] However, Velázquez seemingly conducts an in-depth examination of Mariana's character.[17] She is depicted as elegant, and extravagantly dressed in the height of contemporary fashion, but with a sulky expression. She has an unusually rigid and stiff pose; her upper body and head seem to almost suffocate underneath her black dress.[18] The dress is supported by a wide and stiff farthingale; its width emphasised by the broad lace collar and the horizontal patterns of its trimmed borders.[17]

Her unusually pale skin is heavily painted in rouge, making it almost doll-like under her wig and wide head-dress. Her face is painted with thick brush strokes and layers of opaque paint that thin towards the edges, where they appear, from x-radiograph, to have been applied in quick dabs.[19] Although only 19 years at the time, she stands in the "formal and upright, Catholic manner" expected of contemporary Spanish royalty.[4]

According to Hagen, Mariana felt constricted by the demands of court, and suffered from "boredom, loneliness, home-sickness and illness in consequence of her never ending pregnancies [which] transformed the lively girl into that willful, mulish German".[7] Her pout reappears in a number of Velázquez's later portraits, including in Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo's 1666 Mariana of Spain in Mourning, painted just after her husband died and the year her daughter Margarita, then twelve, was sent to marry her uncle, Emperor Leopold I.[19]

Portrait of Mariana, 1660. Palace of Versailles

The painting is composed of harmonious shades of whites, blacks and reds.[20] The scarlet velvet curtain lends the painting a theatrical air, while the upper curtain tends to confine the space occupied by the queen and reduce her apparent stature.[21] The curtain's material and colour are similar to the long table behind her, on top of which is placed a gilt clock in the shape of a tower.[22] The chair and table signify her royal status, while the clock draws attention to her duties as Queen consort.[16]

She holds a lace handkerchief in her left hand. Her farthingale and bodice reflect her interest in high fashion.[3] Her dress is extensively lined with silver braids and decorated with red ribbon.[2] Her many pieces of jewellery include bracelets, gold chains and an elaborate gold brooch pinned on her chest. Her brown hair is adorned with red ribbons and a series of braids that extend widely on either side. She wears a large red and white plume which pictorially acts to frame her face.[2] Her left hand holds a large and elaborately folded white cloth, whose description, in its attention to line and abandonment of scale, has been described by Ortiz as "worthy of El Greco".[3]

Mariana had extravagant taste in clothes and jewellery, but her married life was pressured by the need to produce a male heir. A modern view is that she was a rather plain looking woman in an unhappy marriage, perhaps lacking in much of the elegance that Velázquez attributed to her.[22]

Commission and dating

Velázquez was then the Spanish crown painter, having been Aposentador mayor del Palacio (officer in charge of palace lodging) since 1652.[23] He operated in a pressurised court under threat from the anti-Catholic Oliver Cromwell, the Catalan revolt, and the withdrawal of Austrian support.[24] He admitted to being drained by his workload,[23] and that official duties limited the time he could devote to painting;[25] he produced fewer than twenty works during the last eight and a half years of his life. Of these some fourteen survive, mostly of the royal family. The run of portraits began with Philip and Mariana's marriage in 1649, and include canvases of Maria Theresa of Spain and Felipe Prospero, their first two children to live beyond infancy. Felipe died aged 3 years, but portraits of Maria Theresa became especially in demand when she reached marriageable age, and were sent to potential suitors.[26]

Louvre copy, which does not contain the overhanging portion of the curtin

Velázquez accepted the commission for the portrait during his 1649–50 visit to Italy. When Ferdinand III requested a portrait of his daughter in 1652, Philip asked Velázquez to return to Madrid to complete the work as soon as possible.[2] The Prado dates the painting between 1652 and 1653, a dating with which the art historian José López-Rey agrees. However Josep Gudiol places it more closely at 1452, noting that replicas were completed and distributed during 1452–53.[27] The replica now in the Musée du Louvre was sent to Ferdinand on 15 December 1652.[2] From this, the painting came be assumed as completed before this date.[28]

Velázquez again painted Mariana after Philip's death in 1665. Imbued with a sense of pathos, his late portraits emphasise the effects of widowhood. Although these portraits are dour and mournful in tone, in person Mariana was engaging and fun loving.[11][29] The 1653 Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain shows the sitter in a very similar pose, complete with large wig, wide dress, and similar overhanging velvet curtain.[30]

Provenance and copies

The painting was recorded in a 1700 inventory when it was paired with Philip IV in Armour with a Lion, which is now in El Escorial, Madrid,[2] and attributed to members of his workshop. Velázquez's portrait of Philip is unfinished, with some sections, including the lion, described by art historian Julián Gállego as "hardly more than sketched".[30] According to Georgia Mancini, sometime before 1700, another hand "added a piece of canvas to the top of the original composition and painted the upper part of the curtain", so as it would match the size of Philip’s portrait.[31]

Later in life, Velázquez became preoccupied with courtly duties, and tended to paint a bust-length portrait of his sitter from life, leaving the completion of the final work to assistants.[32] Several contemporary full-length copies are known; one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, a second was sent to Archduke Leopold William in 1653, but is now lost. The third was in the Prado until it was acquired by the Louvre in a 1941 exchange.[2] A half-length version attributed to members of his workshop is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[5] The version cataloged in the collection of Richard Ford by the German art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen in his 1854 "Art Treasures in Great Britain", and misidentified by Harry Wehle in 1940 as the Met picture, is now attributed to followers of Velázquez, and is in the Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida.[5][33]




  1. ^ The Habsburgs maintained their political advantage due to strategic marriages, often protected their holdings by intermarriage between their Spanish and Austrian branches. See Mitchel (2013), pp. 175–191
  2. ^ That work shows Mariana in a black and silver dress adorned with silver braid and red bows. See Mancini (2007), p. 226
  3. ^ Felipe's 1659 portrait is described by art historian Antonio Domínguez Ortiz as "the most moving of Velázquez's portraits". See Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 248


  1. ^ Prohaska (2007), p. 230
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Mancini (2007), p. 226
  3. ^ a b c d e Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 248
  4. ^ a b "Don Balthazar Carlos (1629-1646), son of Philip IV of Spain c.1638-39". Royal Collection Trust. Retrieved 6 October 2019
  5. ^ a b c "Mariana of Austria (1634–1696), Queen of Spain". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 12 January 2018
  6. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 259
  7. ^ a b Hagen (2010), p. 396
  8. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 272
  9. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 275
  10. ^ Borobia, Mar. "Portrait of Mariana of Austria, Queen of Spain 1655 - 1657". Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. Retrieved 30 November 2019
  11. ^ a b White (1969), p. 127
  12. ^ Mitchell (2013), p. 178
  13. ^ Cruz, Galli Stampino (2013), Birthing Habsburgs
  14. ^ Mitchell (2013), p. 176
  15. ^ Carr (2006), p. 238
  16. ^ a b Gállego (1984), pp. 220–23
  17. ^ a b Portus (2007), p. 238
  18. ^ Anderson (2002), p. 171
  19. ^ a b Ackroyd et al (2005), p. 52
  20. ^ "Queen Mariana of Austria". Museo del Prado. Retrieved 9 November 2019
  21. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), pp. 250–51
  22. ^ a b Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 250
  23. ^ a b White (1969), p. 124
  24. ^ White (1969), p. 123
  25. ^ White (1969), p. 125
  26. ^ Gállego (1989), p. 240
  27. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 244
  28. ^ Morán; Rudolf (1992), pp. 291–92, 301
  29. ^ Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 131
  30. ^ a b Ortiz, Gallego (1989), p. 248
  31. ^ Mancini (2017), p. 226
  32. ^ "Infanta Maria Theresa". Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Retrieved 13 October 2019
  33. ^ "Mariana of Austria, Queen of Spain". Ringling Museum of Art. Retrieved 22 February 2019
  34. ^ "Queen Mariana of Spain in Mourning". National Gallery, London. Retrieved 10 November 2019


  • Ackroyd, Paul; Carr, Dawson; Spring, Marika. "Mazo's 'Queen Mariana of Spain in Mourning'". London: National Gallery Technical Bulletin, Volume 26, 2005
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  • Carr, Dawson. Velazquez. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
  • Cruz, Anne; Galli Stampino, Maria (eds). Early Modern Habsburg Women. London: Routledge, 2013. ISBN 978-1-3155-7847-7
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  • Hagen, Rose-Marie. Masterpieces in Detail. London: Taschen, 2010. ISBN 978-3-8365-1549-8
  • Mancini, Giorgia. In Carr, David (ed). Velázquez. National Gallery, London, 2007. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
  • Mitchell, Silvia. "Habsburg Motherhood: The Power of Mariana of Austria, Queen Regent for Carlos II of Spain". Ashgate: Women and Gender in the Early Modern World Series, 2013
  • Morán, Miguel; Rudolf, Karl. "Nuevos documentos en torno a Velázquez y a las colleciones reales". Archivo español de arte, 65, 1992
  • Ortiz, Antonio Domínguez; Gállego, Julián. Velázquez. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8109-3906-6
  • Portus, Javier. In Carr, David (ed). Velázquez. London: National Gallery, 2007. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
  • Prohaska, Wolfgang. In Carr, David (ed). Velázquez. London: National Gallery, 2007. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
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