State of preservation

 

Figure 1. Detail of the face of Philip III before and after restoration

Figure 2. Detail of the sky in the original section and added during restoration

Figure 3a. The preparation of white lead, a Velázquez feature after his first trip to Italy, can be seen in this sample of the original area

Figure 3a. Sample of the addition based on iron oxid

Within the context of the re-display of the Museo del Prado's Permanent Collection and more specifically of the works by Velázquez, it was decided to restore Philip III on Horseback and Margaret of Austria on Horseback. The two canvases were painted by Velázquez with studio assistance for the Hall of Realms [Salón de Reinos] in the Buen Retiro Palace. They were part of a series that also included the equestrian portraits of Philip IV, Isabel de Borbón and Baltasar Carlos. Restoration was undertaken as the original pictorial values of the paintings had significantly altered for two principal reasons:

  • The accumulation of dirt and the alteration of the varnish had changed the chromatic relationships in both paintings, dulling the contrasts and creating a 'veil' that resulted in a negative compositional effect as it reduced the spatial planes. In the case of Philip III it completely obscured the luminosity of the sky in front of which the horse and rider are located.
  • In the mid-18th century both paintings had additional strips of canvas added to them on the left and right sides. This was done in order to make them the same size as the other portraits in the series in order to display them in a recently built room in the new Royal Palace in Madrid. The addition of these strips notably affected a formal reading of the two works, particularly of Philip III. As is now clear following restoration, Velázquez opted for a foreshortened composition that he emphasised through the markedly horizontal format of the painting, resulting in a vigorous, dynamic image to which the luminous sky also contributed. His intention was thus to offer a different solution to the one he devised for Philip IV on Horseback. The lateral strips resulted in a less vertical format, thus reducing the foreshortening and producing a less powerful, dynamic composition. In the case of Margaret of Austria the additions also affected a reading of the painting, although not in such a pronounced manner. Firstly they detracted from the presence of the splendid horse and secondly they altered they landscape, which originally consisted of distant mountains but which was transformed with the additions into hills with watercourses.
  • The fact that the 18th-century additions were painted on a type of priming different to that used in the original works influenced the restoration as the pigments in the two areas had behaved differently over the course of two-and-a-half centuries. This considerably affected the chances of achieving a harmonious result in which it was not excessively evident that these were areas painted at two different historical periods.
 
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