This portrait shows a young boy dressed in a rich costume that is trimmed with gold and has lace at the collar and cuffs. His shoes and the ends of his breeches are adorned with pompoms. His attire signals his high social status. In his right hand he holds a short lance while the other touches his sword handle, revealing martial pretensions. Brightly lit from the upper left, his figure stands against a plain, dark background and casts a shadow on the ground, creating the illusion of depth. Despite the formality of the portrait, the artist succeeds in conveying the child-like vulnerability of the boy. The simplicity of the composition is typical of Spanish court portraiture of the first half of the seventeenth century.
The artist is Juan van der Hamen y León, who was the only rival to Diego Velázquez as court portraitist in the early years of the reign of King Philip IV, until his early death in 1631. While van der Hamen is primarily known today as a still-life painter, he not only portrayed several significant members of the royal court in Madrid, but also well-known poets and playwrights. In the case of this portrait there are no obvious clues, such as armorial bearings or inscriptions, as to who the sitter might be. It is equally difficult to be certain of his age. Some evidence points to the family of the powerful royal favourite, the Count-Duke of Olivares (1587–1645), who served as Philip IV’s prime minister between 1621 and 1643. The torn label on the back relates to both the Dukes of Medina de las Torres and those of Medina Sidonia, who were related to Olivares. There were also contemporary connections between the artist’s family and that of Olivares, as van der Hamen’s elder brother, Lorenzo (1589–1664), was a cleric and respected author based at the royal court, who, amongst others, provided the intellectual underpinnings for Olivares’s government.
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Portrait of a Young Boy holding a Lance.
Juan van der Hamen y León (Madrid, 1596–1631).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
133.5 x 88 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
An old torn label on the back: ‘Un niño con una lanz/Duquesa V.da de Me…’.
Bought privately through Sotheby’s by The Auckland Project/Zurbarán Trust, with Art Fund support in 2017.
In a private collection in France by 1960; sold in Paris, Tajan, 15 June 2016, Lot 5.
The Spanish Gallery, Bishop Auckland.
William B. Jordan, Juan van der Hamen y León y la corte de Madrid (Madrid: Patrimonio Real, 2005);
William B. Jordan, ‘Juan van der Hamen y Léon’, The Auckland Project at Sotheby’s: Paintings from The Spanish Gallery, ed. James Macdonald & Edward Payne (New York: Sotheby’s, 2018), pp. 58–62.