Queen Elisabeth of Valois, third wife of Philip IICa. 1605. Oil on canvas, 120.1 x 84 cm.
Philip II’s marriage to Elizabeth of Valois served to consolidate the desired peace between France and Spain, which was sealed in 1599 when both countries signed the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis. It was the king’s third marriage, but the first for his wife, and it reflected the Habsburgs’ policy of matrimonial alliances, in which the female role was entirely based on the dynasty’s biological succession and continuity. On numerous occasions, Habsburg women played important roles as regents or governors, or were charged with delicate diplomatic missions. In 1565, for example, Elizabeth of Valois represented Philip II in Bayonne (France) to negotiate matters relating to that country’s Protestants. The identification of family life with the monarchy on the female side of the royal court makes it difficult to distinguish official from intimate in portraits of the queens and infantas, where established symbols of power appear alongside elements that convey the sitters’ social standing, such as luxurious clothing and jewelry. Such elements provide the proper counterpoint to male portraits of the monarchy by adding sumptuousness and distinction. Elizabeth of Valois (1546-1568) was the daughter of Henry II of France and Catherine of Medicis. In 1559, she married Philip II by power of attorney at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. Soon thereafter, she undertook the voyage to her new residence at the Alcázar of Toledo before her definitive move to court in Madrid in 1561. The chronicles speak of a happy marriage and of the monarch’s continuous concern for his very young wife, with whom he had two daughters: the infantas Isabel Clara Eugenia and Catalina Micaela. Nevertheless, her youth, and Philip II’s relation with her and with his son, don Carlos, to whom she was first engaged, also led to the spread of a black legend in the 19th century that gained ground with the publication of Schiller’s play, Don Carlos. One of Elizabeth’s ladies in waiting was Sofonisba Anguissola (ca. 1530-1626), an internationally known painter whose first work at the court was a full-length portrait of the queen. She also made various three-quarter versions of this painting, including one for the portrait gallery kept by her sister-in-law, Juana, at the monastery of Las Descalzas, and another for the portrait gallery at the palace in El Pardo, where it was intended to replace the original that had been lost in the fire of 1604. Anguissola made two more for Elizabeth’s mother, Catherine of Medicis. The queen appears in Spanish clothing, a black velvet skirt with round sleeves, richly decorated with crimson ribbon and bows, and on her head, a cap adorned with feathers and a small jewel. Her hands are busy with a curious fly swatter bearing a marten’s head, an object associated with power since Antiquity and indicative of the sitter’s social status, but rarely seen in surviving Spanish female portraits from that period. Sofonisba reveals her capacity to adapt the Habsburg family’s customary formula for female portraits, presenting the queen’s figure in three-quarters with the habitual trappings, such as a friar’s chair and a curtain. But she introduces variations derived from her own visual resources in her quest for a greater sense of space, a warmer and more luminous palette for defining the clothing and accessories, and a softening of the contours and of the sitter’s less favorable facial features. As he was often required to do, Pantoja de la Cruz here copied an original by Sofonisba Anguissola (1530-1626); it was her first portrait of the young queen. It is an attractive adaptation to Spanish conventions, but using warmer, lighter colours; a marmot-fur stole has also been added to the Queen’s costume. Despite Pantoja de la Cruz’s (ca. 1553-1608), hieratic, abstract style, in this copy it is possible to recognize the features of the original by Sofonisba (Text drawn from Ara Lázaro, J.: El retrato español en el Prado. Del Greco a Goya, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2006, p. 54).