Diego Velázquez and the Infanta Margarita Teresa

A partial transcript of Episode 19 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

I want to return to my recent trips to museums and landmarks. Actually, I wanted to talk about my second trip to Prague Castle, just to see the Lobkowicz Palacethe only privately owned building in Prague Castle.

The Palace is, in fact, property of the Lobkowicz family – one of the oldest noble families in Bohemia. Most of it is open to the public as a museum and displays some major artworks including the one that I will focus on, which is a portrait of the Infanta Margarita Teresa of Spain from circa 1655 by Spanish painter Diego Velazquez.

Here, Margarita Teresa was about five years old, and she looks cute but there’s a grace and even a seriousness about her that shows more of a hint of self-awareness. In other words, she knows her fate as a Spanish royal.

In reality, this is something that must be considered when looking at paintings such as this. Posing for a portrait was a lengthy, dull thing and so for a child of five, it must have been particularly daunting.

Yet, another thing that stands out to me, besides the actual beauty of the details of this baroque painting by one of the undisputed masters of the movements is that this particular pose is almost identical to that of the Infanta in what is considered one of the major masterworks of Velazquez, Las Meninas, from a year later.

Which would imply that the work exhibited at the Lobkowicz Palace may be as much a portrait as an actual study for this grander piece, currently exhibited The Prado Museum in Madrid, where it mostly likely will be forever, as it is banned from leaving the country by order of the Spanish government, which prohibits any work that could be part of Spain’s heritage from being taken abroad.

In any case, Diego Velazquez was a deeply individualistic artist of the Baroque period. His early works explored religious themes but he is most commonly admired for his realism. He was THE leading artist in the court of King Philip the fourth and of the Spanish Golden Age. Velázquez painted the Infanta many times during her childhood, in fact, he painted her more than any other Spanish royal.

The Infanta, or Margaret Theresa of Spain as the Anglophones commonly refer to her, would have a pretty difficult life, somewhat commodified in the game of European royalties of the mid-17th century. She was married off to her uncle, Leopold, who became the Holy Roman Emperor.

Apparently, Leopold was a notoriously ugly man, but he was kind. And of course, marrying cousins and uncles was not a big deal back then… In any case, during their six years of marriage, the Infanta birthed four of his children and died shortly after giving birth to her fourth child at the age of 22.

What is interesting is that at one point, there had been discussions of her becoming the Queen of Spain but in the end. Interestingly, however, despite her short life, she is probably one of the best-remembered of all the Spanish royals of this period and that is thanks to Velazquez himself, who gave an immortality to her by placing her at the center of his most Las Meninas, his most famous work.

Just another example of how art really does have that defiant power to give immortality. Which is perhaps why “immortalized” is a term commonly used by arts scholars, writers and presenters.

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