The Netherlandish portraitist Anthonis Mor was probably a pupil of the painter Jan van Scorel. In 1550, Mor travelled to Rome, where he was greatly influenced by the work of Titian. On his return to the Netherlands, Mor settled in Utrecht, becoming a member of the city’s Guild of St Luke. At the invitation of Emperor Charles V and Queen Mary he travelled to Madrid in 1552 to paint several members of the royal family, including Charles’s heir, King Philip II. He returned to Spain in 1558 following the death of his wife, again to paint members of the royal family in 1559 and 1560, namely Philip II and Elisabeth of Valois on the occasion of their marriage, and also to record the wedding on canvas. Mor later settled in Antwerp, where he painted one of his last great portraits, of the Spanish general, the Duke of Alba. Mor was much sought-after and he worked for various European courts.
The subject of this painting is Elizabeth of Valois (known in Spain as Isabel de Valois), Princess of France and Queen of Spain, born in 1545 as the eldest daughter of King Henry II of France and Caterina de' Medici. Originally betrothed to the Spanish Infante Don Carlos, -Elizabeth of Valois married King Philip II of Spain in 1559 at the age of fourteen, a union negotiated as part of the peace treaty between Spain and France. She was his third wife and died in childbirth after only a few years, aged just twenty-two. It was rumoured that Elizabeth of Valois had had an affair with her stepson Don Carlos, a theme that Friedrich Schiller wove into the plot of his drama Don Carlos.
One of the most famous images of Elizabeth as Queen of Spain is the portrait by Sofonisba Anguissola in the Prado at Madrid. The present likeness, notable particularly for the sitter’s richly-embroidered and gem-encrusted clothing, exists in various versions on both wood and canvas. These were probably painted between 1560 and 1568, but are neither signed nor dated. They include two versions in the Várez Fisa Collection in Madrid, one of which is attributed to Alonso Sánchez Coello. These works differ only slightly from the painting in the Princely Collections: the pose of the right hand in the latter is different, while the glove in the sitter’s left hand is missing here.
Acquired by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein in 1820, the portrait of Elizabeth of Valois has recently undergone restoration, during the course of which a landscape was uncovered in the background to the right of the sitter. Added at a somewhat later date, it had been obscured by an older, blackish-brown layer of paint.
Zum Seitenanfang  
Anthonis Mor
Portrait of Elizabeth of Valois (1545–1568), wife of King Philip II of Spain, 1560
Oil on wood
height 107,1 cm, width 78,6 cm
Inv.-No. GE158
Provenance: acquired in 1820 by Prince Johann I von Liechtenstein from the fine art dealer Franz Goldmann, Vienna, as a work by Bernard van Orley
Related themes
Artwork of the Month / January – December 2010
New acquisitions >>