VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)

Cardinal Infante Don Fernando as a Hunter

1632-33
Oil on canvas, 192 x 108 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Philip IV was a bold and enthusiastic huntsman, it was usual for the king to ride out with a small retinue in the extensive game preserves of the densely wooded Pardo. Emperor Charles V had built a watchtower on the way to the mountainous hunting grounds of the Sierra, as a place to stop and rest before the most strenuous stage of the journey. This tower was known as the Torre de la Parada, and Philip, who was particularly fond of it, extended it to make a comfortable hunting lodge. He was in haste to see it furnished, and commissioned Rubens to provide a large collection of new pictures on mythological subjects.

After 1638, when the building itself was completed, it was the task of Velázquez to decide how they should be hung, and to contribute a series of hunting portraits himself, to hang with other appropriate works already in existence and with pictures by Dutch masters. This project cost him a great deal of time and trouble, but it also won him increasing appreciation at court.

Velázquez's three extant hunting portraits (Philip IV as a Hunter, Prince Baltasar Carlos as a Hunter, and Cardinal Infante Don Fernando as a Hunter) are life-size. Don Fernando, the king's younger brother, despite his spiritual calling, did not hesitate to indulge his passion for hunting. In this painting, showing him with his gun at the ready, he looks even more of a huntsman than his relations. His expressive outline balances the silhouette of the cinnamon-coloured dog sitting in front of him, a figure once again illustrating the court painter's skill in depicting animals. He pays them as much careful attention as he expends on human beings; while he is of course aware of the differences between animals and humans, he is also conscious of the dignity shared by all living creatures. The natural elegance of a horse's head or the body of a dog, their fiery or faithful natures - few painters have captured the beauty and individuality of animals as unforgettably as Velázquez.