Elisabeth of Valois holding a portrait of Philip II1561 - 1565. Oil on canvas, 206 x 123 cm.
Isabel de Valois (1546–1568) married Philip II on 27 June 1559 in a ceremony by proxy held in Paris. Isabel was daughter of the French monarchs Henri II and Catherine de’ Medici. Her arrival at the Spanish court coincided with a particularly important period for the consolidation of the Spanish portrait; during her brief time on Spanish soil painters such as Antonis Mor, Alonso Sánchez Coello and Jorge de la Rúa (Georges von Straeten) among others were active in this genre. Another portraitist was Sofonisba Anguissola, a notable woman artist born and trained in Cremona. She was a pupil of Bernardino Campi and Bernardino Gatti and consequently developed a style characterised by soft modelling and restrained outlines, with a particular interest in a detailed representation of reality. Nonetheless, Sofonisba Anguissola arrived in Spain as a lady-in-waiting to the young queen and not as a painter, despite the fact that she gave Isabel de Valois drawing and painting lessons. During her time at the Spanish court from 1559 to 1573 she executed various portraits of the royal family that have only been identified in recent years as knowledge of court portraiture has increased.The present example from the Prado is now attributed to her following earlier attributions to Alonso Sánchez Coello or a copy by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz of a lost work by her or Sánchez Coello. As Campbell has previously noted, the composition derives from a portrait of the Empress Elizabeth of Portugal, mother of Philip II, by Titian, but with iconographic and stylistic borrowings from Antonis Mor and his Spanish follower Alonso Sánchez Coello. As a result, it conforms to a type of family image and can therefore be associated with other Habsburg portraits of around the same period, including Philip II in half-Armour by Titian of 1551. Nonetheless, the most explicit reference to the king is the miniature oval portrait of Philip, inset with gold and precious stones, which is a version of Antonis Mor’s portrait of around 1557, painted to commemorate Philip’s victory over the French at the Battle of San Quintin. Isabel owned at least two cameos with miniatures of the king, one of them painted by Sánchez Coello. This may be the one seen in the present portrait, which she holds in the hand that rests next to a column, symbol of Hercules and of the Habsburgs and thus a direct and reiterative allusion to the dynastic line. Miniatures first appeared in portraits in Europe in the 15th -century but their inclusion became particularly widespread at the court of Philip II. In particular this device was used for female portraits and more specifically for the circle close to the monarch: his sister Juana, his third wife Isabel de Valois, and their daughter Clara Eugenia. Both Isabel and doña Juana played important roles and were delegated State responsibilities by the king, a fact that suggests a more complex interpretation for this portrait. It has been suggested that it might be connected with the meeting in Bayonne of Isabel and her mother Catherine de’Medici in 1565, which was intended to bring to an end Catherine’s tolerant attitude towards the Hugenots. If this were the case, the portrait would reinforce the idea of the king’s delegation of powers to Isabel de Valois, but the image nonetheless retains its significance as a testimony of affection and subordination and a proof of dependence and fidelity. ( Ruiz Gómez, L. en: El retrato del Renacimiento, Museo Nacional de Prado, 2008, p. 510 )