The 17th century Spanish court was beginning to show signs of decay. It was in serious financial trouble, sometimes not being able to pay the cooks or buy enough firewood, and yet had to maintain a semblance of the lavishness it was reputed for. Philip IV had no male heir, so his daughters, The Infanta Margarita Teresa and her sister, were his only hope of continuing the royal line. As the court painter, Velasquez sought to immortalize this delicate atmosphere, relying on the King’s support and enthusiasm for fine art.
Philip was the only one who would have seen Velasquez’s paintings, so it’s not surprising that many of his works are portraits of the Infanta, as she was virtually the only symbol of hope the king had. At the same time, Velasquez depicts a kind of doll-like fragility in her rigid stance and ambiguous expression that seems to mirror the unpredictability of her future and the one of the Spanish court. The thin, almost translucent layers of brushstrokes give her an ethereal quality that reveals Velasquez’s impeccable technical skills as well as his subtle and intellectual approach to painting.
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