(b. 1531, Beifayo, d. 1588, Madrid)

Philip II Holding a Rosary

Oil on canvas, 88 x 72 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

During the first half of the sixteenth century Spain acquired a vast empire of distant colonies, but by the end of the century this expansion had ceased. During the years that saw the containment of the Empire Spain was governed by Philip II (1556-1598), the son of the Emperor Charles V. When he came to the throne at the age of twenty-nine he ruled over all the Spanish colonial territories, the Netherlands and a large area of Southern Italy; for a short period he was also a force to be reckoned with in England. But he lived to see the Union of Utrecht - which marked the secession of the northern provinces - and the destruction of the Armada off the shores of England. He did not, however, live to see the successes in Central Europe of the Counter-Reformation, for which he was partly responsible. He was an unhappy man, who bequeathed to his successors a financially depleted country - and a fabulous palace: the Escorial.

During the reign of Philip II the Spanish Society was hierarchical, insular and élitist. Its code of honour was based on purity of faith, purity of blood and legitimate birth, and was manifested in the practice of virtue. Philip II himself had introduced a fashion for shorter hair and shorter beards, and for sober dress, particularly black. Considering that Sánchez was a court painter, his portrait of Philip was not very flattering; he tried to combine truth with a show of respect, expressing the personality of the monarch in his painting of the thick lips, the cold blue eyes, the hand fingering the rosary, the ruff and the order of the Golden Fleece.