Portrait of Mariana of Austria

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Portrait of Mariana of Austria, 1652–53. Oil on canvas, 234 cm x 131.5 cm. Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Portrait of Mariana of Austria is an oil-on-canvas painting by Diego Velázquez completed in 1652–53 when the subject was nineteen years old. Mariana was the daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III and the Infanta Maria and as the second wife of Philip IV was Queen consort of Spain. Mariana – known as Maria Anna to contemporaries – is shown as rather plain looking and wears an unhappy expression.

Mariana is depicted in full length, in a black dress with silver braid and a close-fitting bodice. She is adorned with jewellery that includes a gold necklace, bracelets and a large gold brooch. Her right hand rests on the back of a chair, and she holds a delicate lace scarf in her left hand. The picture is bathed in harmonious shades of black and red; the rather dramatically drawn curtain was painted over by another hand.

The painting is one of a series of female Spanish courtiers painted by Velázquez in the 1650s. A complicated rivalry existed between the courts of Madrid, Paris and Vienna. Velázquez played a key role in depicting the relative attractiveness of those that might bear successors to the respective kings.[1] The portraits are marked by an emphasis on brighter hues, dark backgrounds, extravagant head dress, fashionably wide dresses and penetrating physiological examination. These court portraits culminates in his 1556 Las Meninas, which includes an older maternal Mariana, and center-stage her daughter, the Infanta Margarita Teresa. Based on the description of a portrait sent to Ferdinand in Vienna, the portrait was probably completed by 15 December 1651.[2]


Mariana's mother Maria was Philip IV's sister. Maria had been betrothed to Baltasar Carlos, Philip's son and her cousin, but he died in 1646, leaving the Spanish king heirless. Then over forty years old, Philip sought Mariana, his niece, then fourteen.[3] Velázquez accepted the commission during his 1649–50 stay in Italy; Ferdinand requested a portrait of his daughter, and Philip asked the painter to return to Madrid with it as soon as possible.[2]

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

Mariana did not meet Philip before their marriage, and when they did meet they had little in common. She was then thirteen years, described by art historian Rose-Marie Hagen as a "ruddy-cheeked, naive girl who loved a good laugh".[4] When Philip died in 1665 she became regent for her son Charles II, the last of the Spanish Habsburgs. Margarita had an unhappy life, and her bid to provide Charles with an heir included a number of false hopes and miscarriages.[5] Her surviving children were later portrayed by Velázquez – most famously her first, the Infanta Margaret Theresa who he painted a number of times,[5] and who takes center stage in Las Meninas. Margarita Teresa was later portrayed in a similar pose to the current work, complete with wide haircut and dress, and underneath a similar overhanging red velvet curtain.

Velázquez was then crown painter, an Aposentador mayor del Palacio since 1652,[6] but was working in a court that, under pressure from the anti-Catholic Oliver Cromwell, the Catalan revolt, and the withdrawal of support from Austria, was often anxious and depressed.[7] Velázquez himself often felt drained by his workload;[6] the appointment hindered his health, leisure time, and because he now had many duties that in tending the court, which reduced his time available for painting.[8]

Velázquez painted a number of portraits of Mariana after Philip's death. They emphasise her loss and the effect of widowhood. Although most of his portraits of Mariana are dour or mournful in tone, in life she was vivacious and fun loving.[9]


Velázquez, Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (Mariana's daughter), oil on canvas, 1659

Portrait of Mariana of Austria is bathed in harmonious shades of white, black and red, although the dramatically drawn curtain has been painted over by another hand.[10] This scarlet velvet curtain is dramatically drawn on the top left hand corner, lending the painting a theatrical air; its presence tends to confine the space occupied by the queen and throw out paintings the center of balance.[11] Its material and colour is similar to the long table behind her, on top of which is placed a gilded clock.[12] This table and clock are likely intended to represent her courtly duties as Queen consort.

The picture is the only known full length portrait of Mariana. As an official court portrait it adheres to convention, and every attempt is made to convey a sense of her majesty. Both the chair and table-clock act as symbols of her royal status.[13]


X-radiograph detail

The queen is pained with alabaster skin and a rouged face; small and almost doll-like under her hair and the very wide head-dress. Her bust is tightly encased in the bodice, her stiff farthingale shows her her interest in fashion. 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.[14]

According to Hagen Mariana felt constricted by the demands of court, and suffered "boredom, loneliness, home-sickness and illness in consequence of her never ending pregnancies [which] transformed the lively girl into that wilful, mulish German".[4]

Mariana's pout rings true, given that it reappears in a number of later Velázquez portrayals, and 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, at twelve years, was sent to marry her uncle, Emperor Leopold I, king of Hungary and Croatia and Bohemia.[14]


Mariana was fond of luxurious clothes and adornments.[3] Her dress is extensively lined with silver braids and decorated with red ribbon.[2] She wears many pieces of jewellery, including bracelets, a series of gold chains and an elaborate gold brooch pinned at her breast. Her doll-like face pouts while her cheeks are heavily lined with rouge. Mariana's brown hair is decorated with red ribbons and worn in a series of braids that stretch widely on each side. She wears a large white and red plume to the right which pictorially serves to frame her face.[2] Her left hand holds an elaborately folded and outsized white cloth, which in its attention to line and abandonment of scale has been described as "worthy of El Greco".[3] She wears a tightly fitted bodice which accentuates her waist but gives her the appearance of being flat chested. She holds a lace scarf in her left hand.


Velázquez wished that his royal commissions would reinvigorate 16th century court portraiture, which art historian Javier Portus described as, until then as "petrified into a rigid format...with its cliches of gesture and deportment". Velázquez instills his works with an in-dept examination of the sitter's character.[15] Mariana is elegant but holds a pouty expression. Even so, she holds an unusually rigid and stiff pose and her upper body and head seem to almost suffocate underneath her black dress, which is at least given space and supported by a very wide farthingale.[16] The width of her dress is emphasised by the broad lace collar, the horizontal patterns of the dress's trimmed borders and her wide collar.[15]

Mariana's extravagance with clothes and jewellery was much commentated on during her lifetime, but modern historians temper that view with the fact that her married life was pressured by the need to produce a male heir. This more sympathetic view looks past Velázquez's great portrait and at the fact that in real life she was a rather plain looking woman, and perhaps lacking in much of the elegance the master attributes to her.[12]

Provenance and copies[edit]

The painting was noted in a 1700 inventory as a pendant to Philip IV in Armour with a Loin, now also in the Prado, but probably painted by members of his workshop. There may have been an original accompanying portrait of Philip. It is accepted that Velázquez later enlarged Mariana's portrait, adding a portion to the top by enlarging the overhanging canvas. Most art historians agree that this was probably done to match it in size with a pre-existing portrait of Philip.[2]

Three 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 1941.[2] A cropped version by members of his workshop is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.[17]




  1. ^ Prohaska, 230
  2. ^ a b c d e f Mancini, 226
  3. ^ a b c Dominguez, 248
  4. ^ a b Hagen, 396
  5. ^ a b White, 127
  6. ^ a b White, 124
  7. ^ White, 123
  8. ^ White, 125
  9. ^ Dominguez, 131
  10. ^ "Mariana of Austria. Queen of Spain". Museo del Prado. Retrieved 21 September 2013
  11. ^ Dominguez, 251
  12. ^ a b Dominguez, 250
  13. ^ Gállego, 220-3
  14. ^ a b Ackroyd et al, 52
  15. ^ a b Portus, 238
  16. ^ Anderson, 171
  17. ^ "Mariana of Austria (1634–1696), Queen of Spain". Metropolitan Museum of Art. Retrieved 20 September 2013.


  • Ackroyd, Paul; Carr, Dawson; Marika, Spring. "Mazo's 'Queen Mariana of Spain in Mourning'". London: National Gallery Technical Bulletin, Volume 26, 2005
  • Anderson, James. Daily Life During the Spanish Inquisition. Westport CT: Greenwood, 2002. ISBN 978-0-3133-1667-8
  • Dominguez, Ortiz Antonio. Velázquez. New York: Harry N Abrams, 1990. ISBN 978-0-8709-9554-5
  • Gállego, Julián. "Visión y símbolos en la pintura española del Siglo de Oro". Cátedra, 1984
  • 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
  • Portus, Javier. In Carr, David (ed). Velázquez. National Gallery, London, 2007. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
  • Prohaska, Wolfgang. In Carr, David (ed). Velázquez. National Gallery, London, 2007. ISBN 978-1-8570-9303-2
  • White, Jon Manchip. Diego Velázquez: Painter and Courtier. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd, 1969. ISBN 978-0-2410-1624-4

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