Juan Carreno de Miranda    Spanish     1614-1685. SN 338    Oil on Canvas

by Robert Anderson. 2000

    This Spanish painter was active primarily in Madrid. Until he was appointed one of the royal painters in 1669 he concentrated on religious works, but thereafter he worked primarily as a portraitist. One of the most important painters in Spain in the 17th century, he executed many religious works in oils, tempera and fresco and was considered to be, after Velazquez, the most acomplished portrait painter of his day. He was of noble birth and his paintings have an aristocratic dignity and something of Velazquez's sensitivity and taste. His religious paintings are, however, more extravagantly Baroque.
    His style showed a fully developed and unique manner of combining compositional schemes inspired by Rubens and other flemish artists with a rich technique acquired from a careful study of Venetian masters, especially Titian. Carreno's portraits have an air of stern elegance and reveal an intimate approach to his sitters, no matter what their social position. He brought to Spanish portrait painting a courtly gallantry reminiscent of van Dyck, whose works he admired.
    Carreno was a long time friend of Velazquez who offered him a position as a painter in the Alcazar in 1658. In 1669 he was made painter to the King by the Queen Mother Mariana of Austria, the mother and regent of Charles II. In this new position Carreno was chiefly engaged in painting portraits. He rendered expressive studies of the sickly child-king Charles II and several of his mother, Queen Mariana of Austria in severe widows weeds. These latter portraits were influenced by those of the Queen by Juan Battista del Mazo.

    Mariana (whose portrait as an adolescent hangs nearby) was the second wife of King Philip IV. His first wife, Isabel of Bourbon died in 1649. Mariana had born Philip two sons: Philip Prosper, who died at the age of four (4) and the future King Carlos Segundo, Charles II, who assumed the throne at age sixteen in 1677. Charles was mentally retarded and physically debilitated and after Philip's death in 1665, Mariana reigned as regent until 1675. The country was actually ruled by her confessor, Johannes Eberhard Nithard at first and then afterwards by her lover Fernando Valenzuela.

    Mariana is shown wearing the habit of a nun (common dress for royal widows) and seated in the hall of Mirrors in the Alcazar Palace. Her garb is that of the order of St. Dominic and she is seated in an armchair before a pulpit desk on which we see paper and a quill pen. In the background what appears to be a monument is seen while above it hangs a picture depicting the Raising of Lazarus. An oriental rug is on the floor
    Carreno's portrait is probably based upon a prototype by the painter Juan Battista Mazo. Carreno, however, differs from that model in stressing the psychology of the mature and resiliant Regent whose son Charles II was the last Hapsburg monarch of Spain.

    Mariana became Queen at a time when Spain was at war with both Holland and France. Management of the country, its civil affairs and the management of the war effort, was left in the hands of one of Philip's ministers, Don Gaspar de Guzman the Count of Olivares. Philip, himself was much more interested in food, women, art and hunting. The arts flourished but the country was crushed by high taxes and the defeat on land and sea by France and Holland. As mentioned above, after Philip's death in 1665, Mariana, as regent for her son Charles II, left the rule of the country in the hands first of her confessor Johannes Nithard, then under the control of her lover Fernando Valenzuela.
    Decadence became the order of the day. No great literary figure dignified the age, no great drama took the stage. The universities were languishing amid the general destitution. Charles the half-idiot son of Philip and Mariana assumed the government in 1677 and presided helplessly over the debacle. The disintegration of Spain became a European tragedy and by 1700 Charles signed the country over to the Duke of Anjou, grandson of the French King. Charles died at the age of thirty-nine (39), the last Hapsburg ruler of Spain.