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The Nice Thing About Hapsburg Faces

young Philip IV - Velazquez

Velazquez: The Techniques of Genius

I spent the last of my birthday gift cards on a fantastic technical analysis of Diego Velázquez by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido, Velázquez: The Technique of Genius.  It’s filled with x-ray imaging, pigment analysis and critical examination of brushwork.  Since I am a huge art conservation and painting construction nerd AND a big Velázquez fan, I love this book.  There is a lot of amazing information in here, but there was one little insight that jumped out at me and I had to share.

I have a strange fascination with the inbred royal Spanish Hapsburg line.  Philip IV (b. 1605 – d. 1665) has their last great king and a frequent Velazquez subject since he was the artist’s patron.  Philip’s marriage to Elizabeth of France produced one male heir who was betrothed to his cousin Mariana of Austria.  Within one year, both the queen and the prince died.  With apparently few options, Philip IV, then 44 years old and himself the progeny of a Hapsburg niece-uncle marriage, wed his 17 year old niece who had been formerly betrothed to his son.  With a royal couple that more or less came from a single, narrow family tree, Velazquez apparently took some artistic short-cuts.

Velazquez - Mariana of Austria

Velazquez – Mariana of Austria, 1652 (Prado, Madrid)

Scientific analysis of a 1652 portrait of Mariana of Austria in the Prado revealed some creepy details.  The young queen’s image was painted over a previously unfinished image of Philip IV.  Fabric panels were added along the left and top to accommodate her costume and to allow for the alignment of her face directly over his.  In the infrared image below you can clearly see Philip IV’s mustache.  His more round and deep set eyes are also visible in the infrared image.  Ultimately their cheeks, jaws, noses and lips are so similar thanks to generations of careful inbreeding, the overlay of Mariana over Philip is almost identical.

Mariana of Austria infrared image - Velazquez

Here are some close-up portraits, all by Velazquez, so you can look at the uncle/niece couple more or less side by side.  Top: Philip IV as Hunter, 1635-40 (age 30-35) flipped horizontally (Prado), Middle: Detail of Mariana of Austria, 1652 (age 18), Bottom: Philip IV, 1624-27 (age 19-22), flipped horizontally (Prado).  The last two are particularly good matches since the subjects are approximate the same age.  velazquez philip IV as hunterMariana of Austria closeup - Velazquez

young Philip IV - Velazquez

And if that weren’t enough portraits of very similar looking faces, here is Prince Ferdinand, the brother of Philip IV:

Fernando as hunter - Velazquez

The marriage of Philip IV and Mariana produced two children who lived to adulthood.  Their daughter Margarita (immortalized in Velazquez’s Las Menianas) married Leopold I the Holy Roman Emperor who was both her cousin and uncle.  Philip IV and Mariana’s son Carlos was extremely handicapped and proved incapable of fathering any children with two non-Hapsburg wives thus ending the Spanish Hapsburg line.

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have this book, too, and I also love it. Velazquez has always been one of my favorites… I love the gestural strokes and the impasto highlights that are quite abstract. I don’t find the painting over of the image as creepy…just economical. We artists do it all the time!


    October 4, 2012
    • Thanks, it’s good to hear that artists today draw from Velazquez’s technical as well as artistic skills. I actually love examining images underneath a painting; you can tell a lot about how an artist worked and revised their image during its creation. I posted in August about a canvas that Picasso had completely reused for The Old Guitarist. Very cool!

      No, what I find really creepy is that Philip IV and Mariana had such similar facial features, you could pretty much overlay them without changing much! 😮


      October 4, 2012

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