When this slightly unusual portrait was painted, the King Philip IV of Spain was fifty. Diego Velázquez, the court painter and master of the royal chambers, was six years older. For 30 years, Velázquez was the king’s confidant, but by the time the portrait was created, at least a decade had passed since Philip IV forbade to portray himself.
A letter from the king, dated 1653, has survived, where he says that for nine years he had not allowed even Velázquez to paint his portraits — Philip forbade it everyone else much earlier, as soon as he met Velázquez. For many years he had the exclusive right to portray the king
. The artist portrayed Philip IV as a magnificent knight
, a brilliant equestrian
, and a wise monarch
. Moreover, the king gave him high court positions. However, one day he imposed a ban on portraits: the king did not want the highest skill of Velázquez (who was called “the artist of truth” even during his lifetime) to capture him aging with uncompromising truthfulness.
We do not know why exactly Philip revised his ban, but in the mid-1650s, after an unprecedentedly long hiatus, Velázquez painted two his portraits (one is now one is in the Prado
, and the other described here is in National Gallery London).As already mentioned, the king is about 50 years old here. Moreover, his face leaves no doubt that this man has seen many troubles in his life. By this time, he had experienced the death of his beloved wife Isabella Of Bourbon
and his beloved heir, his son Balthazar Charles
. Spain faced a series of military defeats and its imperial splendour faded considerably. The Spanish crown has lost the rebellious Netherlands. Philip had to consider it as the result of his many years of reign. As a 16-year-old boy, he ascended the Spanish throne, and although in 1656 he still had almost ten years to rule, he could already sum up disappointing results: the empire led by him collapsed before his eyes, lost its economic and political influence.
The king was neither a strategist nor an outstanding politician. An educated, sophisticated and indecisive man, he was fonder of painting than politics, and he gladly shifted state affairs to his favourite Count-Duke Olivares
(by the way, who recommended Velázquez to the King in 1620s).
Close-related marriages were very common among the Habsburgs. Degenerative genetics became the reason that children were born weak and sick. Six children of Philip and his first wife died in infancy. Only the daughter, Maria Theresa
(who would later become the wife of Louis XIV) and his son, Balthazar Charles, the favourite of his father and Velázquez — the empire set great dynastic hopes on him, — survived. The very young heir to the Habsburgs was betrothed to Marianne of Austria, daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III. But at the age of 16, Balthazar Charles died unexpectedly. The entire Spanish court was in mourning and sorrow. Then, in order not to abandon the dynastic union, Philip IV himself had to marry the bride of his deceased son, who, moreover, was the king’s own niece. The thirty-year age difference and close relationship did not prevent the spouses from having five more children. We can see Philip, his second wife Marianne, and their eldest daughter Infanta Margarita can be seen in the famous Las Meninas painting by Velázquez, painted at about the same time as this portrait of the king, both sad and majestic.Written by Anna Vcherashniaya