This full-length portrait of the thirty-year-old King Philip II (1527–98) is a copy of Anthonis Mor’s Portrait of Philip II in Armour (c. 1557), in the collection of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. According to a royal inventory, it depicts the king ‘as he was’ when he defeated the French at Saint Quentin on 10 August 1557. He stands alert, looking defiantly at the viewer, with his right hand resting on the pommel of his sword and holding a baton of command in his left. As is common in male portraits of the Habsburg monarchs, he wears the insignia of the Order of the Golden Fleece, a Catholic order of chivalry founded in 1429 by Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy (1396–1467). Philip II’s distinctive armour was forged by his favourite armourer Wolfgang Grosschedel (1517–62) and is now housed in the Royal Armoury in Madrid. It is decorated with the Burgundy Cross, an emblem introduced to Spain by Philip II’s grandfather, Philip the Handsome (1478–1506). On the chest, the armour features a representation of the Virgin Mary, which references Philip’s role as fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith).
Philip II, who ruled Spain from 1556 to 1598, was a passionate patron of the arts. He favoured Titian and the Venetian School, but in portraiture he opted for the more restrained approach of the Netherlandish artist, Anthonis Mor, who had already painted portraits in the service of his father, Charles V. Mor’s style is marked by his exquisite attention to detail in the depiction of costume and facial features, restrained colours, and a sparse background. In this portrait, Mor’s descriptive style is particularly evident in the reflective surface of the armour. Named official court painter to Philip II in 1554, Mor greatly influenced the development of Spanish court portraiture, establishing a model for later artists, from Alonso Sánchez Coello to Diego Velázquez.
This portrait is a product of political propaganda. It promotes Philip II as a military victor, like his father, Charles V, who had made him King of Naples and Sicily in 1554 and King of Spain in 1556. For viewers at the time, the portrait served to consolidate Philip’s monarchical status and commemorate his victory at Saint Quentin, which was a major success early in his reign. This led to the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis (1559), which made the Spanish Habsburgs the dominant European power for more than a hundred years.
Philip II ruled over vast territories that stretched across continents and became known as the Empire on which the sun never set. It included Spain, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, Milan, part of the Netherlands, Portugal, the Philippines, and the Viceroyalties of New Spain, Peru, and Brazil. In 1554 he married Queen Mary Tudor and became King of England and Ireland until her death in 1558. He then, following the execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, made a failed attempt to invade England by sending his fleet, the Armada, to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne.
Your feedback is very important to us. Would you like to tell us why?
We will never display your feedback on site - this information is used for research purposes.
King Philip II of Spain.
Workshop of Anthonis Mor (Utrecht, c. 1519 – Antwerp, c. 1577).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
185 x 102 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
Acquired by The Zurbarán Trust in 2019.
The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland.
John F. Moffitt, ‘The Theoretical Basis of Velázquez’s Court Portraiture’, Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 53.2 (1990): 216–25;
Antonio Feros, ‘“Sacred and Terrifying Gazes”: Languages and Images of Power in Early Modern Spain’, in The Cambridge Companion to Velázquez, ed. Suzanne L. Stratton-Pruitt, Cambridge Companions to the History of Art (Cambridge: University Press, 2002), pp. 68–86;
Joanna Woodall, Anthonis Mor: Art and Authority, Studies in Netherlandish Art and Cultural History, 8 (Leiden: Brill, 2007), pp. 339–66;
Álvaro Soler del Campo, Miguel Falomir Faus, & Carmen García-Frías Checa, El arte del poder: la Real Armería y el retrato de corte (Madrid: Museo Nacional del Prado, 2010), p. 230.