Ferdinand was the third son of King Philip III of Spain (1578–1621) and Archduchess Margaret of Austria (1584–1611), and thus the brother of King Philip IV (1605–1665). In 1619 he was appointed Cardinal and between 1634 until his death in 1641 he was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, a role in which he succeeded his aunt, the Archduchess Isabel Clara Eugenia (1566–1633). Known to have been an able military commander, Don Ferdinand scored one of the most decisive victories for the Catholics in the Thirty Years’ War, the 1634 battle of Nördlingen, defeating the Swedish army.
Contemporary sources indicate that De Crayer had close ties with the Cardinal-Infante and was trusted with important works not only at his courts in Brussels and Ghent, but also in continuing the work of Rubens in the decoration of the Alcázar in Madrid. It is thought possible that De Crayer knew Rubens personally, certainly his works of the 1620s strongly reflect the influence of the older Fleming, and De Crayer is known to have painted copies after his works that could only have been seen in the master’s studio. Rubens’ own equestrian portrait of the Cardinal-Infante at the Prado, Madrid (fig. 1) was painted shortly before the execution of the present work, and no doubt served as an inspiration for De Crayer. However, as Matías Díaz Padrón notes, the execution and feeling of De Crayer’s painting is more akin to Velázquez’s portrayal of Ferdinand’s brother Philip IV, also at the Prado (fig. 2).
De Crayer captures Ferdinand as his horse performs a levade, a most demanding equestrian manoeuvre, in which the horse raises its forelegs tucking them in, while bending on its hindquarters, in a demonstration of great skill. Padrón notes that in Rubens’ equestrian portraits the forelegs of the horse are raised in such a manner that breaks the stability and solidity of the figures so convincingly achieved by both Velázquez and De Crayer, and that the latter two artists share a solidity in the way their respective works are conceived. Neither this mounted figure of the Cardinal-Infante, nor Velázquez’s Philip IV on horseback has the sense of progressive movement that Rubens prioritised.1 The focus of this painting is on triumph, authority and stability in a time of war: messages the Cardinal-Infante will have been keen to press upon the people over whom he governed.
There are several known variants of this composition, and several copies. The closest in quality is an autograph version of this composition by De Crayer in the collection of the Duke of Alba.2 We are grateful to Dr Hans Vlieghe for endorsing the attribution to De Crayer upon inspection of images, and for dating the picture to about 1635, or slightly later.
1 Díaz Padrón 1979, p. 118.
2 H. Vlieghe, Gaspar de Crayer, Sa vie et ses œuvres, Brussels 1972, vol. I, pp. 266 – 67, cat. no. A269, reproduced vol. II, fig. 244. In the Alba version the Cardinal-Infante faces to the right, sits atop a darker horse, and there are minor differences in the details of the sitters’ clothing. A small copy after the present work (oil on canvas, 57 x 51 cm.) was offered Vienna, Dorotheum, 30 April 2019, lot 562.
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale