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The Buffoon don Juan de Austria
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
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Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y

Sevilla, 1599 - Madrid, 1660

Miniatura autor

The Buffoon don Juan de Austria

Ca. 1632. Oil on canvas, 210 x 123 cm.

The sitter`s elaborate dress, the baton of command he holds in his right hand and the sword on which his left hand rest all indicate that he is a military figure. The military context in further suggested by the naval battle depicted in the background and the weapons, ammunition and pieces of armour on the floor. For many years this portrait was in fact thought to depict a military officer until 1872 when Pedro de Madrazo drew attention to an entry in the 1700 inventory of the Buen Retiro palace in Madrid, which refers to the portrait of a buffoon called don Juan de Austria with various cuirasses.

The buffoon Don don Juan de Austria took his name from that of Phillip II`s illegitimate son, the hero of the battle of Lepanto (1545-1578), whose memory was very much alive at the Spanish court where every October the naval festival of don Juan de Austria was held (Fradejas 1979, 140). While doubts have been cast on whether this was really this sitter`s name, it was not unheard of to baptize children with names of this type. In 1657, for example, a Moor was murdered who bore this name in honour of his patron.

This buffoon is documented in the service of the court from 1624. In 1632 he was given a suit of clothes similar to the one seen here, providing an approximate date for Velázquez`s portrait. This would make it one of the first occasions on which the artist tried out the type of rapid, confident and summary pictorial handling that would characterize the last decades of his career. The remarkably synthetic manner of painting the background notably reflects Velázquez`s knowledge of Titian.

This portrait is associated with that of The Buffoon Cristóbal de Castañeda y Pernia (Museo del Prado, P01199), which is referred to alongside it in the Buen Retiro inventory and is of a similar size. That buffoon is depicted as Barbarroja (Redbeard), the feared Ottoman admiral, thus establishing an interaction between the two portraits based on the contrast between the Christian hero and the Muslim. There is also a play of associations involving the contrast between the buffoon Don Juan de Austria`s name, the military context and the timidity of both his body language and his expression, as he peers shyly out at the viewer. Barbarroja in his vivid red tunic appears fierce and aggressive next to him.

This transformation of court buffoons into military figures firstly reflects the nature of Velázquez`s himself as a painter who liked to play with paradoxes and who was capable of depicting Mars (Museo del Prado, P01208) as a melancholy warrior rather than a victorious general. This practice also relates to court culture of the day, which showed a marked preference for conceptual games and for reflecting on the boundaries between appearance and reality, which Velázquez himself emphasized in his compositions. The military guise of these sitters does not just reflect a personal decision of the artist but can also be explained in relation to the expectations generated by buffoons at court, where they were made use of for a wide variety of spectacles and forms of amusement. After the Dutch ambassador Lodewijck Huygens visited Philip IV`s illegitimate son Juan de Austria in Pinto in 1660, he wrote that during the meal, two buffoons played at war (Huygens 2010, p. 199) (Text from Portús, J.: Velázquez, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 2014, pp. 309-310).

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Technical data

Related artworks

El bufón llamado Don Juan de Austria
Taille douce: etching and engraving on paper, 1824
El bufón llamado Don Juan de Austria
Etching on steel plate on paper, 1828
El bufón llamado Don Juan de Austria
Crayon lithography on paper, First third of the XIX century
Inventory number
P01200
Author
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
Title
The Buffoon don Juan de Austria
Date
Ca. 1632
Technique
Oil
Support
Canvas
Dimension
High/Height: 210 cm.; Width: 123 cm.
Provenance
Royal Collection (Palacio del Buen Retiro, Madrid, 1701, s.n.; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, antecámara de la serenísima infanta, 1772, nº 611; Palacio Real Nuevo, Madrid, cuarto del príncipe, 1794, nº 611; Palacio Real, Madrid, cuarto del príncipe-cámara, 1814-1818, nº 611; Real Academia de BBAA de San Fernando, Madrid, 1816-1827).

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Other inventories +

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos II, Buen Retiro, 1701-1703. Núm. s. n..
[610] Ottro rettratto de dos Uaras y media y Uara y tterçia de ancho de ottro Bufon llamado Don Juan de Austria Con barios Arneses y marco negro de mano de Uelazquez tasado en Veintte y Cinco doblones ... 1500

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 611.
Antecámara de la Serenísima Infanta [...] {12856-12857} 609 - 611 / Retiro = Dos retratos de cuerpo entero el vno que segun los arneses parece artillero y el otro de vn bufon de dos varas y media de alto y vna menos de ancho originales de Velázquez

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 611.
Quarto del Principe N. S. Camara [...] {357} 611 y 609 / Dos varas de alto y media, y una media de ancho: retrato de un general Español con varias armaduras en el Suelo el primero, y el segundo con un bufon: Velazquez. los dos ... 12.000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 611.
Cuarto del Príncipe N. S. / Cámara [...] {21537 - 21538} 609-611 / Un general español con varias armaduras en el suelo = un Bufón = Velazquez

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 117.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 117.
Velazquez. / 117. Retrato de hombre desconocido. / Está en pie, con un bastón en la mano y una llave de hierro al pecho. En el suelo se ven algunas armas y balas. En el fondo un buque incendiado que va á pique. Pudiera ser algun artillero celebre del tiempo de Felipe 4º (bosquejo) / Alto 7 pies 6 pulg, 6 lin; ancho 4 pies, 5 pulg.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1094.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1200.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1200.

Exhibitions +

Velázquez. Viena
Viena
27.10.2014 - 15.02.2015

Velázquez’s Fables. Mythology and Sacred History in the Golden Age
20.11.2007 - 24.02.2008

Manet-Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting
Nueva York NY
25.02.2003 - 25.05.2003

Manet-Velázquez: The French Taste for Spanish Painting
París
16.09.2002 - 06.01.2003

Velázquez
Madrid
23.01.1990 - 31.03.1990

Velázquez
Nueva York NY
28.09.1989 - 07.01.1990

Location +

Room 009A (On Display)

Update date: 04-02-2016 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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