Charles IIICa. 1765. Oil on canvas, 151.1 x 109 cm.
This image of King Charles III was paired with a portrait of his wife, Maria Amalia of Saxony (P2201), although the image of the queen was not painted in her presence. Instead, it was invented on the basis of other likenesses, as she died before the artist was able to paint her.
Mengs’s effigie of Charles III became the monarch’s official image and was therefore the object of various replicas. One such copy, of excellent quality and with some variants (P5011), must have been painted in 1774 on the occasion of the king’s founding of the Royal Order of Charles III, as he appears with the lion necklace and the insignia of the Immaculate Conception, as well as the blue and white sash of that corporation. The portrait of Charles III was twice engraved by Manuel Salvador Carmona in 1783, and also by Rafael Morghen for the Guía de forasteros.
The king appears in armor and regal robes, standing out against a palatial indoor background with curtains and a wide pilaster on a pedestal. His left hand transmits an imperative gesture while his right holds his command baton. The insignias of three monarchical military orders -the Golden Fleece and the medals of the orders of the Saint-Esprit of France and of Saint Gennaro of Naples- are visible on his chest. The broad cummerbund at his waist and the sword, whose hilt is visible at his side, complete an image in which military elements are integrated into a courtly conception.
His face is severe but not haughty, reflecting the complacent character that Mengs brought to regal iconography in most of the commissions he carried out at the crown’s behest. In contrast to the rigidity of his portrait of Queen Maria Amalia of Saxony, the king is presented with a most pleasing naturalness and closeness, despite the logical decorum imposed by the solemnity of a monarchical image.
Replicas and successive interpretations of the royal likeness were intended to satisfy the demands of foreign courts and government centers throughout Spain’s vast empire, and there is a revealing document in this regard. In 1773, the Marquis of Grimaldi wrote to the Marquis of Montealegre: the empress of Russia has requested portraits of the King and of our lords, the Prince and Princess. Don Francisco Bayeu and Don Mariano Maella have been ordered to paint them, and it has been determined that the copies should be made by don Rafael Mengs. Consequently, besides their workshop aides, other artists from court circles -painters and engravers- participated as needed in the generation of replicas of the official model created by Mengs (Text extracted from Luna, J. J.: El Prado en el Ermitage, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2011, pp. 168-169).