María Dolores de Aldama, Marchioness of Montelo1855. Oil on canvas, 130 x 98 cm.
This young aristocrat, portrayed in three-quarter length, stands posed before the viewer wearing a magnificent black satin and velvet dress trimmed with lace and ribbons, a close-fitting bodice and a full, domed skirt. Her hair is smoothed and parted, with braids wound around her ears and gathered in the back, held in place with a large, bejewelled pin and lace frill. She wears, at her neckline, a splendid brooch made of gold, precious stones and pearls, and bracelets and rings on each of her arms and hands. Her right arm rests on a fur shawl lying on the back of a plush chair, while her other arm hangs down in front of her skirt. She tilts her head lightly, looking straight ahead, with little expression. She appears to have a slight, rigid smile, perhaps suggesting listlessness. The smooth parlour wall provides the background, while on the right we see a heavy curtain and a table covered with a red cloth, upon which a flower vase and a jewel case sit. Though this canvas was painted in Paris, the profound influence of the Spanish artistic tradition, in which Madrazo received his training, is most eloquently apparent. Indeed, in this portrait he has made great use of his impressive command of blacks -something he had learned in his youth from studying the portraits by Goya and Velázquez that hung in the Prado, which he frequented on a daily basis, as his father was at the time director of the Museum. Thus, following the most genuinely Spanish tradition, he succeeds in reproducing countless nuances from the same colour, so as to translate onto the canvas the texture of the diverse textiles in the clothing of the sitter, executed with an extraordinarily subdued palette and an elegant, aristocratic restraint in her pose. The result is an enormously rich depiction displaying Madrazo´s absolute command over the devices of the portrait genre: the gradation in warm grey tones on the background wall, producing a clean outline of her delicate lace; the sharp contrast between the light flesh tones and the black of her dress; and the delicate modelling of her thin, pale hands (one of the painter´s proverbial specialities). His mastery is evident even in the decorative elements, such as the jewellery, depicted with slightly more impastoed brushwork so as to suggest the sparkles on the settings, and the splendid flower vase in the background, executed with short, much looser brushstrokes than the rest of the painting -revealing a freedom that the artist had to suppress in the service of the exacting technique then fashionable, and which he would begin to use more frequently and flexibly in the next decade. María de los Dolores de Aldama y Alfonso was the daughter of a wealthy Basque landholder based in Cuba, Domingo Aldama y Arechaga, and of María Rosa Alfonso y Soler. In Havana, in January 1835, she married her cousin, José Ramón de Alfonso y García de Medina (1810-81), Senator of the Realm, Maestrante in the Cavalry Armoury (or Maestranza) of Zaragoza and a Knight of Charles III, who obtained the title of second Marquis of Montelo in 1864. A lady known for the soirees she held at her residence, María Dolores also tried her hand at literature, composing several poems and novels such as El guante (The glove) and Dos cartas (Two letters). She died on 18 July 1884 (Díez, J. L.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado. Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 206).