VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)
Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback1635-36
Oil on canvas, 209 x 173 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid
Together with four more equestrian portraits painted or partly over-painted by Velázquez (Philip III, Queen Margarita, Isabella of Borbon, Philip IV), a cycle of 13 battle scenes by Cajés, Velazquéz, Maino, Zurbarán, Carducho, Castello, Jusepe Leonardo, and Pereda, and a series of the Labours of Hercules by Zurbarán, this picture was an element of the colossal decorative scheme of the Hall of the Realms in the Buen Retiro Palace. The scheme was organized by the Count-Duke of Olivares, with the aim of affirming the glory of the Spanish Monarchy during what was in fact a period of decline.
Among the five equestrian portraits, only the portraits of Philip IV and Prince Baltasar Carlos are entirely by Velázquez's own hand. The other three are by unknown painters and retouched by Velázquez and assistants.
The portrait of Prince Baltasar Carlos, though highly conventional, is painted by Velázquez with his usual conviction, and with brilliantly suggestive strokes of impasto. Highlights applied with masterly skill emphasize the flowing contours around the prince's face, which is bathed in light and appears translucent, as if in a pastel. Even the shadows cast by the brim of his hat are transparent. The gold embroidery of the Infante's green costume stands out in attractive contrast, emphasizing the brilliant blond of the child's hair.
In the field of royal portraiture, the portrait of the infant or child ruler poses a particular problem to the artist. A majestic pose, sumptuous clothing and the traditional outward trappings of dignity inevitably clash with the very nature of childhood. Velázquez solves this problem by placing the child on a sturdy horse so that the little figure is raised, as on a monumental plinth, to the "correct" position in the picture. This view is further vindicated by a sweeping landscape whose unspoilt nature creates an uncontrived link with the serious, yet still softly contoured and unspoilt mien of the child's face.