The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia (1566–1633), daughter of Philip II of Spain (1527–98) and Elisabeth of Valois (1545–68), is represented in full length, richly clad in a silk dress and set against red drapery. The embroidered flowers on her dress have allegorical values, representing love and fidelity (violets), her Lancastrian descent (roses), and her affiliation to the House of Valois (the fleur-de-lis). Both the headpiece and the jewelled cross pendant adorned with pearls and gemstones belonged to her mother, who can be seen wearing them in the Portrait of Elisabeth of Valois after Anthonis Mor (Louvre). The cross-shaped pendant is also symbolic of her Catholic faith. Isabel appears clutching one of the pearls between her fingers, while in the other hand she is holding a fan. The pearls, which were regarded as symbols of purity and virginity, were most likely brought from the Americas. She is possibly clutching the famous La Peregrina pearl, which was brought from Panama as a gift to Philip II and would later belong to the actress, Elizabeth Taylor.
This painting is probably a late copy of an original portrait by Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, painted for King Philip III after Isabel became Archduchess and co-sovereign of the Spanish Netherlands after marrying her cousin, Archduke Albert of Austria (1559–1621). The couple ruled as representatives of the Spanish crown in the Low Countries and the north of modern France. Isabel and Albert were great patrons of the arts and their artistic network included Jan and Pieter Bruegel, Wenceslas Cobergher, and Peter Paul Rubens, who became their court painter in 1609.
Several versions of this portrait exist, probably made to be sent as diplomatic gifts to foreign courts. In a world where images and people could not circulate as easily as they do today, portraits were exchanged to arrange marriages, assess the health of family members (especially children), or to project the royal image abroad. They were believed to embody the sovereignty of the ruler and, in most cases, they were the only way of knowing what people looked like.
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The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, Governess of the Netherlands.
Possibly after Juan Pantoja de la Cruz (Valladolid, 1553 – Madrid, 1608).
Medium and Support
Oil on canvas.
198 x 112 cm.
Marks and Inscriptions
Bequeathed by John and Joséphine Bowes 1885.
Purchased by John and Joséphine Bowes from the residence of the Governors of the Low Countries, Arbois, Jura, 1862.
The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, B.M.69.
Eric Young, Four Centuries of Spanish Painting: 17th June – 17th September 1967, The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, County Durham (Gateshead: Team Valley Printers, 1967), pp. 24–25 (no. 22);
Eric Young, Catalogue of Spanish Paintings in the Bowes Museum, 2nd ed. (Middlesborough: The Bowes Museum, 1988), pp. 184–85;
Martín Soria, ‘Notes on Spanish Painters in the Bowes Museum’, The Connoisseur, 148 (1962): 30–37;
Cordula van Wyhe, ‘Piety, Play and Power: Constructing the Ideal Sovereign Body in Early Portraits of Isabel Clara Eugenia (1586–1603)’, in Isabel Clara Eugenia: Female Sovereignty in the Courts of Madrid and Brussels, The Habsburgs Collection (Madrid: Centros de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2011), pp. 88–130; Mercedes Cerón, ‘The Infanta Isabel Clara Eugenia, Governess of the Netherlands’, https://vads.ac.uk/digital/collection/NIRP/id/28602 [accessed: 10.08.22].