Portrait of Elisabeth of France, Queen of Spain by Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569–1622) Rubenshuis, Antwerpen

An historical event probably has become the occasion for the creation of an outstanding masterpiece by Frans Pourbus II (the Younger). France in the early 17th century was marked by turbulent, dynamic events. The stability of the political situation in the country required to strengthen the power of the monarchy and dynasty Bourbon categorically, including by establishing closer economic, military and political alliances with neighboring royal dynasties. At that time the King of France is Henry IV (1553-1610), King of Navarre and France, whose first wife was Marguerite de Valois (Queen Margot).

In 1610, as a result of conspiracy and in an ambush outside the Palace Louvre is murdered the French king Henry IV. The French royal throne was inherited by his son then a juvenile, Louis XIII (1601-1643), called le Juste. During this tragic event Élisabeth de Bourbon, born on November 22, 1602 in the Palace of Fontainebleau, France, the oldest daughter of King Henry IV and his second spouse Queen Marie de 'Medici from Florence family of Medici, is only eight years. Élisabeth de Bourbon (1602-1644), called Spanish Isabel de Borbón, is a French Princess, sister of French King Louis XIII and Queen of Spain and Portugal, the future wife of King Philip IV Spanish.

The conclusion of military and political alliances between the Catholic circles of France and Spain with royal marriages was a tradition. At the time, this tradition was continued into 1559 with the marriage of King Philip II of Spain (son of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and Isabella of Portugal) and the French princess Elisabeth of Valois, the oldest daughter of Henry II of France and Katherina de' Medici (Queen Catherine of France).

In 1612, between the royal families of France and Spain negotiations for a double dynastic marriage have been started. It is planned that the French princess Elisabeth, daughter of King Henry IV, to marry her cousin Prince of Asturias, Infant Don Philip and the future King Philip IV (1605 - 1665) of Spain, and her brother Louis XIII to marry the Spanish Infanta Anne of Austria. Through this marriage, Anne of Austria (1601-1666) becomes Queen of France and mother of future King of France Louis XIV (Louis le Grand ou le Roi-Soleil). On November 25, 1615, on the Pheasant Island in the river Bidassoa, where was the border between France and Spain (in the French city of Hendaye and the Spanish city of Fuenterrabia), they were exchanged the two princesses and future queens. In this moment, Elisabeth of France (thirteen years old) and Anne of Austria were first introduced to their future husbands. At this ceremony Elisabeth sees for the last time her brother Louis XIII which were very close during their childhood. This historic event has become a storyline of Rubens's work, part of the "Cycle of Marie de' Medici", at the Louvre. The marriage between 10-year Spanish Prince Philip and 13-year-old Elisabeth of France is concluded in 1615. With this marriage, the French princess Elisabeth of Bourbon became the Princess of Asturias, Queen Consort of Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Naples, Duchess consort of Burgundy, Brabant, Luxembourg and Limburg, Countess consort of Flanders and Countess Palatine of Burgundy.

The portrait of the little princess Elisabeth of France by Frans Pourbus II (the Younger) was painted ca. 1610/12, before her departure for Spain. It is assumed that this portrait was to be sent to the Spanish court for preliminary acquaintance of Prince Philip and his family with the future Queen of Spain. But there is no reliable confirmation of this assumption, since it is not proven with certainty that this portrait was present and belonged to the art collection of the Spanish crown.

This lovely portrait of a little girl aged 10-12 is one of the amazingly beautiful art works by the Flemish painter Frans Pourbus the Younger, the master of filigree performance and of the smallest intricate details in his paintings. The young princess with comely face is shown in luscious attire, a sign of royal origin, which brings a lot of jewelry, collar decorated with lavish lace and clothing, richly embroidered with golden thread. Frans Pourbus the Younger was painted each detail of the garment and gorgeous lace with an extreme precision of the line. This perfect pedantry of the contour is a distinctive sign in the style of the great artist born in Antwerp - deservedly called the "city of painters" in the Renaissance. Frans Pourbus the Younger is known for his mastery of painting costumes, jewelry and draperies. This portrait is of many that Frans Pourbus paints as a royal artist-portraitist at the French court. In his creative work there are also a number of historical paintings. Pourbus has made the portraits of many influential personalities of his time, as well as of a number of aristocratic personas. His paintings are in the collections of the biggest museums in the world as the Louvre, Prado, Rijksmuseum, Kunsthistorisches museum in Schloss Ambras Innsbruck, Uffizi, St. Petersburg's Hermitage, Metropolitan Museum and many other.

Frans Pourbus the Younger (also referred to as Frans II), son of Frans Pourbus the Elder, was born in Antwerp in 1569. He died in Paris and was buried on 19 February, 1621/22. His patrons and benefactors were Brussels-based Archduke Albert and the Infanta Archduchess Isabella, Vincenzo Gonzaga Duke of Mantua, also Marie de' Médici Queen of France.

Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569 – 1622):
“Portait of Elisabeth of France, later Isabelle, Queen of Spain”, ca 1610/12, oil on canvas, 54 × 46.5 cm
Acquired in the South of France, the late 1970s. Private collection, France.
Long-term loan, Rubenshuis, Antwerpen, since 2016.

Source of information: Rubenshuis museum, Antwerpen, Belgium.
Photos: own archive.

Related images

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis, Antwerpen

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12 (fragment) by Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12 (fragment) by Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12 (fragment) by Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12 (fragment) by Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis

Portrait of Elisabeth of France..., c. 1610/12, Frans Pourbus the Younger, Rubenshuis, Antwerpen

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