The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia and Magdalena Ruiz1585 - 1588. Oil on canvas, 207 x 129 cm.
Alonso Sánchez Coello was court painter to Philip II and he united two different pictorial styles developed in the mid sixteenth century by Titian and Anthonis Mor respectively. Sánchez Coello´s images are austere in their presentation, yet they include certain symbolic elements that place the sitters in a suitable context easily legible to the viewer. The sitters´ dress and certain objects -swords, batons, gloves, handkerchiefs, missals, rosaries- serve to signal or reinforce specific aspects of the image. One of the most frequent typologies was the full-length portrait: the figure placed in the foreground, close to the viewer, with a three-quarter view of a clearly illuminated face. Such is the case with this painting of the infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633), Philip´s elder daughter and one of the most important women in the dynasty. She wears a formal dress made of white silk, heavily embroidered with gold thread; the high collar with its delicate lace trim and the feathered headdress each correspond to Spanish fashion in the mid to late 1580s. A rich adornment of jewellery completes the breathtaking costume. She is accompanied by Magdalena Ruiz, a faithful family servant since the days of Charles V and his queen consort, Isabella of Portugal. The presence of the servant accentuates the image of majesty that the princess emanates, not only by virtue of the juxtaposition of their figures but also because of the relationship established between them. Isabella Clara Eugenia contemplates the viewer with a fixed gaze while her left hand rests on Magdalena´s head. The servant kneels before her lady, at whom she stares with an intense gaze -or perhaps more accurately an absent-minded one, surely a reflection of the dementia she was suffering by that date. The representation of Magdalena alongside the infanta belongs to a long tradition of portraits in which servants, pages, jesters and dwarfs appear, coexisting in a perfectly ordinary manner with members of the royal family. The most complex and important painting within this tradition is Velázquez´s masterpiece Las meninas c.1656. Another explicit reference to the tradition of the Habsburg court portrait is the infanta displaying to the viewer an image of her father, Philip II. This motif provides a focal point for the composition. It is an image of the cameo bust of Philip carved in alabaster by Pompeo Leoni held in the Prado (E279). Similar formulas of the portrait-within-aportrait can be found in other images of female members of the royal family. Elizabeth of Valois and Joanna of Austria, the infanta´s mother and aunt, respectively, were both portrayed holding an image of the king -a motif that has been interpreted as indicating the women´s dependency on Philip, as husband or brother; the same may be said of this cameo as a symbol of the infanta´s dependency on her father. There exists another similar image of Isabella Clara Eugenia, attributed to Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, a work belonging to the Prado that is currently on loan to the monastery of El Escorial (P717). Magdalena Ruiz partially echoes the gesture of her mistress, for she also reveals a painted portrait (possibly also representing the king) in a medallion hanging from a chain. She wears a coral necklace and holds two small monkeys in her hands, one brown and one cotton-top tamarin. Both species are from Portuguese territories in the Amazon that, at this point in history, belonged to Philip following the union of Spain and Portugal in 1580 (Portugal regained its independence in 1640). In 1581, Magdalena travelled in Philip´s retinue to Portugal, where he went to claim the Portuguese throne. It is possible that she received both the exotic animals and the necklace on that occasion and perhaps the medallion itself, a common gift in return for loyal service. One additional reference to Portugal may be observed in the infanta´s dress, for she wears white and gold, a characteristically Portuguese style in ceremonial costume. Alonso Sánchez Coello died in 1588, the year this work is traditionally dated. The overall composition, the finely painted heads and the liveliness and precision of the two monkeys are likely the work of the painter himself, while the minute details on the clothing and the fragment of a canopy visible in the background may have been completed by members of his workshop (Ruiz, L.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 82).