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Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, on Horseback
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
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Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y

Sevilla, 1599 - Madrid, 1660

Miniatura autor

Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, on Horseback

Ca. 1636. Oil on canvas, 313 x 239 cm.

Along with Philip IV and Velázquez, the third name intimately associated with the Buen Retiro Palace is Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares (1587-1645). When Philip IV took the throne in 1621 he was only sixteen years old, and he delegated a considerable part of his work as ruler to Olivares, who was then thirty-four and had proved to be a very skilled politician with an extraordinary capacity for work. From then on, the latter´s power grew, and by the 1630s, it had reached a very high level indeed. It was probably Olivares´ idea to build the palace, which was constructed on his own land in order to provide an adequate setting for projecting the splendor of the then still powerful Spanish court.

The Count-Duke had a notable iconographic presence as the subject of portraits by extremely important artists, including Rubens and most of all, Velázquez, who became his protégé when he settled in Madrid. While almost all his likenesses convey his leading role in the structure of the State, none transmit his power and authority with the clarity of the present equestrian portrait.

This work´s style and its model´s fall from grace in early 1643 suggest that it was painted in the 1630s, following the classicist works that Velázquez painted after returning from his first visit to Italy. In that chronological framework, two hypotheses have been proposed. Its considerable similarity to the figure of the Duke of Feria in Jusepe Leonardo´s The Capture of Breisach (P00859) suggests that it precedes the latter work, which was painted between 1633 and 1635 for the Hall of Realms. However, some critics have identified the battle in the background of Velázquez´s work as the taking of Fuenterrabía, an important military event that occurred in 1638, which would force us to date the painting after that. However, the most important characteristic of Fuenterrabía is its coastal character, so it seems strange that it would be depicted in a painting with a river crossed by a bridge.

It is unnecessary to specifically identify the battle in the background in order to understand its significance and function. Velázquez was very subtle in his choice of contents and models, and here he is not only depicting the Count-Duke of Olivares; he is also transmitting the fact that he is not a king, but instead, the king´s favorite. This becomes clear when comparing the present work to the Equestrian Portrait of Philip IV (P01178), where Velázquez transmits all the monarch´s royal majesty, depicting him in a relaxed, tranquil manner before a broad landscape. Philip IV was naturally the king -it was his destiny by birth. His favorite, however, had reached his position thanks to his own hard work and a series of political virtues, and that fact is transmitted here. Instead of Philip IV´s severe profile, Olivares is depicted in a foreshortened position that brings a sense of violence and dynamism to his likeness. Those qualities are further emphasized by his attitude. Rather than looking undauntedly forward, he casts his energetic and arrogant gaze directly upon the viewer, and the same qualities are also underlined by the manner in which the rider and his steed occupy almost the entire foreground.

Philip IV´s clothing and insignias speak of his military responsibilities simply by marking him as the king. In the case of Olivares, however, the painter has to convey them in a more explicit manner, therefore, the Count-Duke is shown directing a battle depicted in highly realistic terms in the background, with fallen horses and clouds of smoke. Painted for the Count-Duke himself, this portrait is the finest expression of the power he had attained by the time the Buen Retiro Palace was being built. It entered the Royal Collections in 1769, when Charles III acquired it at the auction of the Marquis of la Ensenada´s property (Text from Portús, J.: El Palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2005, p. 80).


Technical data

Related artworks

Inventory number
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, on Horseback
Ca. 1636
High/Height: 313 cm.; Width: 239 cm.
Royal Collection (Collection of the Marquis of La Ensenada, Madrid; acquisition of Carlos III, Madrid, 1768; New Royal Palace, Madrid, “paso de tribuna y trascuartos”, 1772, s. n.; Royal Palace, Madrid, “pieza de comer”, 1814-1818, s.n.)

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Other inventories +

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. s. n..
Paso de Tribuna y Trascuartos [...] [12770] [s. n.] = Ensenada = Otro retrato a caballo del Conde Duque de Olivares de quatro varas de alto y tres de ancho original de Velazquez

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. s. n..
Pieza de Comer / {21144-21152} Cinco retratos de quatro varas de alto tres de ancho = Felipe IV nº 248 = su esposa 241 = Felipe III 240 = doña Margarita 249 = el Conde Duque de Olivares - todos a caballo de Velazquez

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 177.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 177.
Velázquez. / 177. Retrato a caballo del conde-duque de Olivares, primer ministro y favorito de Felipe 4º. / Va galopando sobre un hermoso caballo castaño y tiene en la diestra el baston de mando. Lleva media armadura con banda carmesí terciada, y sombrero chambergo (C.L.) (C.N.). / Alto 11 pies, 3 pulg; ancho 8 pies, 7 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1069.

Exhibitions +

El palacio del Rey Planeta. Felipe IV y el Buen Retiro
06.07.2005 - 30.10.2005

Tesoros del arte español
20.04.1992 - 12.10.1992

23.01.1990 - 31.03.1990

Nueva York NY
28.09.1989 - 07.01.1990

Location +

Room 012 (On Display)

Update date: 14-10-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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