Apart from the female members of the royal family, Diego Velázquez painted very few portraits of women. This highly imposing painting occupies a special place in his oeuvre thanks to its intimate character. It shows an elegantly dressed lady in three-quarter view before a neutral, grey-beige background. With slightly blushing cheeks and a knowing smile on her face, she fixes her gaze on the viewer. Her right hand is grasping the back of a chair upholstered in red velvet, while in her left, she appears to be holding a fan. Although not ostentatious, the subject’s attire is certainly extremely sumptuous. A white diamond rose is visible in her wavy brown hair, which is swept up into a quiff. Precious pearl earrings adorn her ears, while her fingers are embellished with intricately worked rings set with precious stones. Her patterned dress is made of costly black velvet, the buttons on her bodice of black jet. Both the lower sleeves and the bodice insert are decorated with lustrous gold embroidery. Above it is a brooch set with black precious stones joining the ends of a heavy gold chain. The lady’s pose, with her right hand resting on the back of the chair and the left hand hanging down, is typical of a portrait of a woman at court (Cat.No. 413C).
The identity of this lady of high rank, captured for posterity in a noble pose by the court painter, has not been established beyond doubt. Before the back of the original canvas was covered in the nineteenth century, the handwritten name of Velázquez’s wife “Juana de Miranda” was visible. There is, however, no clear evidence that a portrait of the daughter of Velázquez’s teacher, Francisco Pacheco, was ever painted. What is more, doubts have existed for a long time that it would have been permissible for the wife of the painter to be depicted in such extravagant garb, let alone in the pose of a lady of the court. In the first half of the twentieth century, the portrait was considered to be that of Inés de Zúñiga (1584–1647), the wife of the powerful Conde Duque de Olivares. However, the validity of the works cited by way of comparison, an engraving by Francisco Herrera from the National Library in Madrid dated 1627 and a portrait drawing held by the Albertina in Vienna, was soon called into question. In 1964, José Camón Aznar identified the subject as Leonor María de Gúzman (1591–1654), the sister of the Conde Duque de Olivares and wife of the Count of Monterrey, who served as Spanish ambassador in Rome from 1628 to 1631 and as viceroy in Naples from 1631 to 1637. As a visual argument, the author cited the sculpture of the countess made by Giuliano Finelli between 1635 and 1637 in Naples, which adorns the Monterreys’ tomb by the main altar of the Convento de las Agustinas Descalzas in Salamanca. The stars embroidered on her bodice and sleeves likewise suggest a connection with the Count of Monterrey, whose coat of arms featured stars, as the commissioner of the portrait. Additionally, we know that Velázquez painted the countess during her lifetime after receiving help from the Monterreys when he came down with a fever while in Rome. The characteristic grey and brown tones and the open style of painting – discernible, for instance, around the collar – suggest that it was painted in the 1630s. The portrait, an impressive testimony to the privileged social status of the subject, is therefore likely to have been painted either in Rome or following the countess’s return to Madrid in 1638.| Sven Jakstat
1887 Ankauf aus der Sammlung Lord William Humble Ward, 2. Earl of Dudley