Ferdinand VII at an EncampmentAfter 1815. Oil on canvas, 207 x 140 cm.
Several portraits of Ferdinand VII are attributed to Goya, though only a few have sufficient quality to be considered fully his own work. Furthermore, there is no accurate documentation of the portraits of a monarch who chose Vicente López to be the official portraitist over Goya. It is, however, clearly documented that Goya, as first court painter, did an equestrian portrait that was one of the first done of the new king; this portrait was commissioned in 1808 by the Real Academia de San Fernando, which still owns it today. Perhaps Goya, as he had done earlier for the official portraits of Charles IV and María Luisa de Parma, did a life-study of the new king that allowed him -and perhaps his collaborators- to produce the numerous portraits sought from him by institutions and private citizens.
Among the portraits of the new king painted by Goya, the finest is unquestionably the Portrait of Ferdinand VII in Royal Robes (Prado, P735). It is from this portrait (painted after the War of Independence upon the king’s return to Spain) that Goya copied both the head on the Portrait of Fernando VII in a Military Encampment and the position of the king’s legs, although here the king is wearing the uniform of a captain-general, with three gold braids on the cuffs of his jacket and on the royal-red sash.
On his chest, the king wears the ribbon of the Order of the Golden Fleece and the sash and cross of the Order of Charles III. We do not know the exact date this portrait was commissioned by the School of Highway Engineers, from which institution it entered the Museo de la Trinidad. The commission was proffered by Francisco Javier de Mariátegui, chief architect of the City of Madrid and captain of the Corps of Engineers, who would later be the father-in-law of Mariano Goya, the artist’s grandson. Interestingly, in the 1876 catalog of the Prado, where the painting figured for the first time, Pedro de Madrazo notes that the portrait was at the time the property of Mariátegui. The School of Highway Engineers was founded in 1802 by Charles IV; its offices were in El Retiro Palace, but were later moved to the Old Customs House, in the Plaza de Leña, where they remained until 1847. Its first few years were difficult: it ceased to operate during the War of Independence and it closed in 1814, reopening between 1820 and 1823. It would be important to know the exact purpose for which this portrait was painted, in order to explain the scene portrayed in it. Given that it follows the general lines of the portrait of the king in royal robes, which was painted in 1815, it must be of a later date, but during those years there were no military actions that might justify portraying the king in a military encampment. On the other hand, the military nature of the highway engineers, who laid down roads, inspected fortifications (and rebuilt them if necessary), and produced maps, might explain the iconography in the background of the painting, with engineers going about their work. Mariátegui was the captain of engineers from 1815 to 1826, during the reign of Ferdinand VII, and it is probable that the painting was commissioned during the first years he held that post (Mena Marqués, M.: El Greco to Goya. Masterpieces from the Prado Museum, Museo de Arte de Ponce, 2012, p. 129).