Iconography and history

 

Fig.1. Tapestry of The Capture of Tunis in the Alcázar, Seville

The image of Philip II on Horseback is inspired by the 16th-century concept of chivalry, transmitted via Flemish and Italian engravings of Roman emperors, and in particular by the equestrian portrait of Philip’s father, Charles V to be seen in the tapestry of The Capture of Tunis designed by Jan Cornelisz. Vermeyen between 1546 and 1554 (fig. 1). The face and torso in the portrait are copied from the portrait of Philip II in Armour painted by Titian in 1551.

It has been considered that Rubens painted Philip II on Horseback during his second stay in Madrid from 1628 to 1629. However, it is more likely that he painted it at a later date in Flanders as we know of at least three old copies of the painting that were executed there. In addition, the preparatory layer contains calcium carbonate, which was much more widely used in Flanders than in Spain. Furthermore, the painting is not documented in the Spanish royal collection prior to the 1686 inventory of the Alcázar in Madrid, suggesting that it was not there before 1636 or 1666, the dates of the previous inventories.

This posthumous portrait depicts the monarch in full armour and wearing a cloak and hat, mounted on a chestnut horse. In the background is a battle, probably referring to San Quintín (1557) when Philip’s troops defeated the French army. The winged Victory who crowns him with laurel supports this hypothesis.

In the last quarter of the 18th century the canvas was enlarged at the upper and lower edges, possibly in order to create a pair with the Equestrian Portrait of the Count Duke of Olivares by Velázquez, thus making them the same size until the present restoration.

 
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