Seminar Paper: Velazquez Portrait of Philip IV at Fraga 1644
Philip IV at Fraga was painted in 1644 during his Argonese campaign to take back the city of Lerida from the French. It was painted by the Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez who was Philip’s court painter who accompanied him to Fraga. Velázquez used oil paint on canvass to create an impressionist portrait depicting Philip IV in his military uniform holding his sword and baton of command. It can now be located in The Frick Collection in New York. Philip IV ascended to the throne in 1621 and reigned in Spain until his death in 1665. Philip is remembered for his patronage of the arts, including such artists as Diego Velázquez, and his rule over Spain during the challenging period of the Thirty Years' War. In order to gain back the Spanish territory lost to the French and Philip’s prestige and honour he personally led a campaign to recapture the city of Lerida in 1643. With 15,000 men he lay siege to the city of Lerida and established his base in Fraga an hours ride away. The French presence on Spanish soil could not go on challenged. When a French force assembled to defend Lerida the Spanish General wished to abandon the siege the King made it clear that the siege would continue. In a theatre production of events after the campaign it is recorded that Philip said, ‘You must continue with the siege… Because I shall never withdraw from Lerida until my army is routed or the place is taken. I count myself here as being in one of my army’s sections, and will not give up whilst my right arm can wield a sword-since I value my personal reputation more than a world empire’. When Philip’s army managed to outflank and defeat the French army he was vindicated for his actions. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was born in 1599 and became the leading artist in Philip IV court thanks to the patronage of Don Gaspar de Guzmán y Pimentel Ribera y Velasco de Tovar, Count of Olivares and Duke of San Lúcar la Mayor the Kings personal favourite. He was made marshal of the royal household, and as such he was responsible for the royal quarters and for planning ceremonies. And accompanied Philip IV on his campaign to reclaim Lerida from 1643-44. A workshop was constructed in a rundown house in Fraga for Velázquez. He started the portrait in early June and by the end of July it was shipped to Madrid and displayed in public on the 10 of August when Lerida was falling into Spanish hands. The Portraits intention was to portray the king as an all-encompassing leader and convey the qualities and power of the monarch. During this time it was viewed that royal portraits were the most important means of propaganda. This was because the message of the painting could be easily conveyed by all the rulers’ subjects and because a portrait is perceived as being sacred and untouchable. Jonathan Brown writes it allow us to see the monarchs ‘aspirations, ideals, pretensions… and self-concepts’. The portrait depicts a simplistic image of Philip IV as a commander in his uniform holding a baton and sword. This depiction of a restrained monarch is in keeping with the tradition of understated portraiture favoured by the Spanish Habsburgs The passive expression on the king reveals nothing of his thoughts, feelings or pretensions . Because the king was not a commanding presence Velazquez found creative ways to ‘ennoble’ the king. He does this by focusing his attention on the monarch’s attire. Focusing on his embroiled rose cultured cloak and baldric and the detail of its silver needle work. This style of painting came from his visit to Italy in 1631 and his study of the late works of Titians and his observation of Rubens in Italy from 1628-29. These painters used a sketchy, notational brushstroke instead of the smoother more precise technique favoured by the other classical painters. Velázquez simplifies this by ‘lightening the ground layer to achieve greater luminosity, by thinning the paint, and by...
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