Juan Carreño de Miranda (Spanish, 1614-1685)
Portrait of King Charles II, c.1675
(see detail at bottom of page)
Oil on canvas
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Museum Purchase.
Thanks to a Gift from Jo Ann Geurin Thetford in Honor of her Sons, Garrett and Wyatt Pettus, MM.2010.02. Photo by Dimitris Skliris.
After Velázquez, Juan Carreño de Miranda is considered the most gifted portraitist of 17th-century Spain. It was Velázquez himself who discovered Carreño’s abilities when Carreño was working on the cloister of Doña María de Aragón in Madrid. In 1658, Carreño testified on behalf of Velázquez in determining the senior painter’s eligibility for the Order of Santiago. Velázquez seems to have rewarded him with a position as a painter in the Alcázar, now the Royal Palace of Madrid, and Carreño, in turn, modeled his painting after the Sevillian-born master. In 1671, Carreño was appointed Pintor de Cámara (court painter) to Charles II by Doña Mariana, Queen Regent to Charles II. That Carreño was given this appointment despite his short tenure is evidence of Carreño’s artistic abilities and the high regard in which he was held by Mariana.
The Portrait of King Charles II, now at the Meadows Museum, was executed around 1675, at the pinnacle of Carreño’s career as Pintor de Cámara. This painting is part of a series of Velazquenian portraits of Charles II in the Salón de los Espejos (Hall of Mirrors) in the Alcázar begun by Carreño in 1671. Charles II is depicted at full length, wearing the vellocino, or the emblem of the order of the Golden Fleece, on a chain around his neck. The king holds a hat in his left hand and in his right, the signed decree which legitimized his absolute power. His hat rests atop a marble table. Two bronze lions which serve as the table’s pedestal are heraldic symbols of the Spanish monarchy, as are the eagles which frame the mirrors.
The painting is of superb quality, demonstrating the artist’s ability to enliven royal portraiture through subtle nuances of color and a masterful manipulation of dark and light. In this portrait series, one lion is usually left in the shadows, while the other provides an opportunity for the artist to demonstrate dramatic tenebrism (or murkiness) and his ability to translate the idea of bronze’s metallic sheen onto canvas. In the mirrors, two paintings are visible. The first painting, an equestrian portrait of Philip IV painted by Rubens in 1628 (destroyed), underscores Charles II’s dynastic legitimacy. The other painting is a depiction of the condemnation of Tityus by Titian (Prado Museum). This painting serves as a reminder of the punishment for those who questioned the king’s authority.
Although Carreño is known to have painted numerous versions depicting Charles II in the Hall of Mirrors at the Alcázar, this particular portrait is one of only three known paintings of the series signed by the artist. The other two signed portraits can be found at the Museum of Fine Arts of Asturias in Oviedo, Spain, and the Staatliche Museum in Berlin. The artist’s signature on this portrait, located on the pedestal of the bronze lion at the right, points to the extent to which Carreño himself was directly involved in its creation (as opposed to a studio production) and, as a result, the work’s outstanding quality. The finesse with which Carreño breaks up monochromatic passages of color with interrupted brushstrokes and painterly highlights, the beautiful delineation of the king’s fingers, the honest and sympathetic depiction of the king’s countenance, or the skillful rendering of the mirror—in which one can catch a glimpse both of the king and reflections of masterpieces by Titian and Rubens—are all evidence of the artist’s painterly style and the extraordinary quality of this particular work.
The signature also seems to indicate that this painting was highly important in terms of its intended destination. This portrait is most likely one of those enumerated in the artist’s inventory of 1678, which lists Carreño’s portraits of Charles II paired with portraits of Queen Mariana. These works were sent within Spain to various royal residences, and abroad to France and the emperor of Austria.
Charles II provides a deeper understanding of the art of Carreño, who is represented in our collection by the Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew (1666) and the Portrait of the Dwarf Michol (1670-82). Charles II is the first full-length portrait of Spanish royalty to enter the Meadows Museum. It therefore fills an important gap in our collection, given the importance of royal portraiture in the history of art. In addition, this portrait of Charles II completes the picture of the ruling Spanish Habsburg family of the 17th century alongside Velázquez’s iconic images of Philip IV and Queen Mariana already in our collection. Philip IV and Queen Mariana were mother and father to Charles II. Queen Mariana was the second wife to Philip IV, and upon his death in 1665, she ruled as regent of Spain until 1675, when her son Charles II was declared competent to rule.
This portrait of Charles II probably dates from about 1675, when the newly independent king would have been 14 years old. This painting is significant in providing a broader view of royal artistic patronage of 17th-century Spain beyond Velázquez: although Mariana’s artistic patronage is not as well known as that of her husband, it was the queen regent who was the main proponent of Carreño. The portrait is also historically important as a depiction of Charles II’s “coming-of-age” before his subsequently rapid physical and mental decline, likely a result of inbreeding. Known as “El Hechizado” (“the bewitched”), Charles II died prematurely in 1700 at the age of 38, childless, effectively ending the reign of the Spanish Habsburgs. Before his death, Charles II named his grand-nephew, Philippe de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou, as his successor. This portrait of Charles II is thus an important historical signpost, providing further insight into the dynamic of the royal family, its court, and its artistic patronage, and ultimately marks the definitive end of an era.
Right: Portrait of King Charles II, (detail), c.1675
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