Antonis Mor had first come into the service of Philip II when the young prince, not yet king, had made a progress through the Spanish Netherlands to present himself as heir apparent and to strengthen the Hapsburg position against neighboring powers. While there, he was painted for the first time by Mor (circa 1549/50), at about 22 or 23 years of age (see fig. 1, formerly Lord Spencer, Althorp, and now Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, inv. 92/253). That portrait depicts Phillip in a very different manner, not surprising as it served a very different purpose. Rather than employing a more daunting full length format, Mor depicts the prince to slightly below his waist, positioned behind the corner of a table draped in red velvet. He is dressed magnificently in a black doublet, heavily embroidered in silver and gold, over a similarly decorated and slashed tunic of yellow (perhaps cloth of gold) silk. In that portrait, which Mor brought to enamel-like finish on a panel support, Philip is presented as a man of culture and elegance, a visual embodiment of the Renaissance Prince.1 Unlike Mor’s later, military image of Philip, it invites the viewer to see Philip in the role of a magnificent ruler, rather than a conqueror.2
This grander composition of a Portrait of Philip II in Armor was conceived by Mor for an entirely different function. The imposing format of the picture, the leonine expression of the sitter who stands in a wide stance, one hand resting on the pommel of his sword and a marshal’s baton in the other is meant to project an unwavering and determined image of Imperial authority. He is painted wearing the cuirass of the famous Cruces de Borgoña armor, made for him in 1551 by Wolfgang Grosschedel of Landshut (circa 1517-1562) his favored smith, still in the Royal Collection, Madrid (see fig. 2, inv. 190000326, cat A-263). This suit was particularly finely wrought, with Burgundy crosses, as well as motifs of the Order of the Golden Fleece, with a flaming image of the Immaculate Conception at the center over the heart of the monarch, in damascened gilt decoration. This is the very armor that Philip wore in 1557 at the Battle of Saint Quentin, a major Spanish victory over the French. The image was a success and retained its potency for many years. Mor’s prime version of the composition appears to be the canvas now in the Escorial, Spain, and would date to shortly after the battle itself, circa 1578-9.3 Mor’s pupil, Alonso Sánchez Coello painted a signed and dated version in 1566 (Schloss Ambras, Innsbruck, on loan from the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, inv. 3995) which has a feigned painted frame as a border. Another workshop example on panel is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge (inv. M.64), and there was a canvas formerly in a private collection, Mantua.4 Perhaps most importantly for the wider distribution of the image, the composition served as the model for the portrait of Philip designed by Francesco Terzi for the Austriacae gentis imagines (vol. IV, p. 37) which included historic images of members of the Hapsburg dynasty (see fig. 3).
It is tempting to see the Philip in Armor as Mor’s response to the magnificent Portrait of Philip II in Armor of 1550-51 by Titian (Prado, Madrid), which could have been seen by Mor upon its arrival in Spain.5 Philip is shown full length, standing before a draped table, and as in Mor’s invention, wearing elaborate dress armor. The mood of the portrait, however, is entirely different. Some of this is due to the difference of age and position of the sitter between the two portraits. When Titian painted Philip, he was a young prince of about 23 rather than a more mature king of about thirty. But it is the difference in the two painter’s temperaments that separate the pictures. Titian’s Philip, although full length and in armor, is more relaxed and natural— a man of intelligence and ability. In contrast, Mor’s Philip is a man of action and power. Indeed, although he admired Titian and was his most important patron, Philip found Titian’s portrait somewhat lacking, and slightly unresolved in execution, particularly in the depiction of the armor.6 Indeed, Mor’s technique is entirely different than Titian’s famously impressionistic handling. The precision of line and detail in the present composition is astounding, with illusionistic details, such as the reflection of the King’s right arm in the side of his armor, rendered with astounding skill. Whatever Philip may have found lacking in Titian, Mor and his colleagues were able to execute perfectly, producing the kind of portrait required by the King and his family to project Hapsburg sovereignty.
1. Baldassare Castiglione’s Courtier had been translated by his friend Juan Boscán Almogáver into Spanish and published in 1534 to great acclaim. As in Italy, the influence on dress and habits of the court was profound.
2. This image of Philip, promulgated by Mor and other painters, acted as particularly useful tool for propaganda, especially in England during the time of his marriage to Mary Tudor, where such an image would have been less threatening. For a discussion of various images of Philip II in this context, please see P. G. Matthews, “Portraits of Philip II of Spain as King of England,” in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 142, no. 1162 (Jan. 2000), pp. 13-19.
3. This is particularly apropos as the Battle of Saint Quentin was fought and won on the feast day of Saint Lawrence, to whom Philip dedicated the Palace of the Escorial.
4. See Alonso Sanchez Coello y el Retrato en la Corte de Felipe II, exhibition catalogue, 1990, pp. 130-31. The painting formerly in Mantua was sold at the Dorotheum, Vienna, 15 October, 2013, lot 578.
5. Philip had sent the painting to Brussels to his aunt, Mary of Hungary, in May 1551 (see H. Wethey, The Paintings of Titian: II The Portraits, 1971, p. 127) and it is likely Mor saw the painting when it reached Madrid a few years later, or at least a replica of it.
6. In a letter written to Mary of Hungary, dated 16 May, 1551, Philip notes “Al mio armado se le parece bien la priesa con que le ha hecho y si hubiera mas tiempo yo se le hiciera tornar hazer [You can easily see the speed with which he has done my armor, and if there had been more time, I would have set him back at it].”
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