Philip II offering the Infante don Fernando to the Heavens1573 - 1575. Oil on canvas, 335 x 274 cm.
This painting commemorates events that took place in 1571: the defeat of the Turkish armada at Lepanto on October 7, and the birth of the infante Fernando, heir to the throne, on December 5th. The proximity of these two events led them to be viewed repeatedly as gifts from Heaven in circles close to the monarch. Thus, a letter from Luis de Requesens, Governer of Milan to Sancho de Padilla, dated December 21, 1571, reads: Praise to the Lord [...], two good events in such a short time, the birth and the recent victory. The canvas thus serves as an ex-voto through which Philip thanks the Lord for the gifts he has received. Towards the top of the composition, a foreshortened angel offers a palm leaf and a ribbon with the inscription MAIORA TIBI (Greater triumphs await you) to the newborn child in his father’s arms. The Battle of Lepanto appears in the background, and a bound Turk is depicted alongside the spoils of victory to the left. This painting is distorted by an enlargement that Vicente Carducho carried out in 1625 to match its format to that of The Emperor Charles V at Mühlberg (P410). The initiative for the composition came from the court. Jusepe Martínez alluded to a drawing by Alonso Sánchez Coello and a portrait of the king looking up and slightly turned, which had been sent to Titian. Without the drawing and portrait, it is difficult to discern how much of this painting is due to Sánchez Coello and how much, to Titian. Clearly, Titian drew on Philip’s head, as he had not seen the monarch since 1551, and here the face is that of a man in his forties. He appears in profile, an unusual typology that must have been chosen by the king himself and would have been implicit in his conception of the painting as an ex-voto. That votive character explains both the overall work and its parts: the monarch’s gesture of offering his son, which Panofsky associated with Medieval images of Ad te levavi, the buffet covered with a velvet cloth resembling an altar, and the bound Turk alongside the spoils of war that constitute an offering to the divinity. The Spanish touch stands out in comparison to Venetian paintings, where the dux kneels before the Virgin accompanied by saints and allegorical figures. It is tempting to think that these differences convey a different perception of power. Philip, as absolute monarch, stands as the only agent of divine providence. In Venice, however, the dux, or elected prince of a republic stands only as an embodiment of the State, which explains the presence of Venetian allegorical figures and protective saints. Elements of the composition and its ideological underpinnings can be located in Anne of Austria’s triumphal entry in Madrid in 1570 to wed Philip II, an event in which Sánchez Coello took part. On that occasion, Juan López de Hoyos designed an iconographic program in which the nuptial element shared a central role with the exaltation of Philip II as a champion of Catholicism. In his plan for the calle Mayor, a grisaille by Sánchez Coello depicted the Defense of the Catholic Faith by His Majesty, while another by the same artist celebrated Joyful Matrimony in which an angel came down from on high with great light and splendor, carrying in both hands a sign that recalls Titian’s. With these precedents, López de Hoyos’ participation in the invention sent to Titian should be considered. Philip II visually associated his reign with this painting, pairing it with Charles V at Mühlberg, which symbolized his father. The two works were first mentioned together at Madrid’s Alcázar Palace when Philip II died, and they remained together until they entered the Museo del Prado in 1839 (Text drawn from Falomir, M.: El arte del poder. La Real Armería y el retrato de corte, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2010, p. 192).