Many thanks to Aoife Cosgrove (Trinity College Dublin) and Amy Saunders (University of Winchester) for this excellent and comprehensive conference report!
In March 2023 a group of international scholars gathered for the first AGENART symposium: Representar La Reginalidad En La Monarquía De Los Austrias (Siglo XVII) – Representing Queenship in the Habsburg Monarchy (17th Century). This was organized byPeter Cherry (Trinity College Dublin) and Alejandra Franganillo (Universidad Complutense de Madrid). The I+D project ELITFEM also collaborated in the organization of this event. The two-day symposium took place across Madrid, with the first day at Centro Cultural la Corrala, part of the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, and day two starting at the Biblioteca Histórica Marqués de Valdecilla, part of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. The afternoon of the second day also included a choice between two activities, either a walking tour of Madrid led by María Cruz de Carlos Varona (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), or a tour of the Museo del Prado led by Peter Cherry (Trinity College Dublin). Whilst all presenters delivered their papers in person, some participants joined to watch the event online.
Split into three themes the symposium began with a keynote given by Adam Jasienski (Southern Methodist University, Dallas) whose book Praying to Portraits: Audience, Identity, and the Inquisition in the Early Modern Hispanic World will be published in May 2023 and explores portraiture and religious imagery. Jasienski’s keynote took as its focus a particular example of a “retrato a lo divino”, a form of portraiture in which the sitter is depicted in the guise of a religious figure. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz’s reimagining of the Annunciation featuring the Spanish queen Margaret of Austria as the Virgin Mary and her daughter Anna Maria as the angel Gabriel was explored through the lens of female religiosity in the seventeenth century. Jasienski argued that such images should be read alongside prevailing practices of meditation and visualisation circulated in religious literature of the time, taking into account the guidance that was given to women on how to experience their faith through vision and emotion. By these means, such “divine portraits” can be considered as devotional aids which also served to remind those people portrayed of their responsibility to serve as vessels of God’s will as expressed through the monarchy.
Section 1: Political Uses of Habsburg Women’s Portraiture
Following this, the first theme explored the political uses of Habsburg women’s portraiture featuring María Cruz de Carlos Varona (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and Amy Saunders (University of Winchester). De Carlos Varona’s paper explored representations of queens at the courts of Philip III and Philip IV, focusing in particular on Margaret of Austria and Isabella of Bourbon. De Carlos Varona argued that women were active agents in the construction of their images, and that the repeated use of certain typologies and formats, as well as the inclusion of miniature portraits of family members, and heraldic symbols integrated into clothing, were all part of a queen’s self-fashioning. As such, queens’ portraits allowed them to visually demonstrate their affiliations and virtuous qualities. Following this, Saunders explored constructions of Queen Henrietta Maria’s motherhood and Catholicism in portraiture and print, drawing particular attention to how these artworks are now represented in modern heritage sites in England. Saunders sought to combat the all-too-common practice of excluding or minimising royal women’s contributions to the commissioning and collecting of art in favour of their husbands by showing the ways in which Henrietta Maria exercised her agency through her commissioning of portraiture and the decorating of her residences. At the end of each theme a panel debate then brought the presenters for each section together for questions and further discussion.
Section 2: The Construction of Identity Through Images
The conference’s second section examined the fashioning of identities through imagery, taking a closer look at how Habsburg women’s portraits adapted the image of the queen to suit the present moment, be it a time of grief, war, or celebration. Yelsy Hernández’s (Yale University) contribution to this topic looked at the literature and imagery surrounding the funeral rites of Queen Margaret of Austria, exploring how this Spanish queen’s posthumous legacy was constructed in the period immediately following her death. With evidence from contemporary sources originating from both Spain and Italy, this paper was able to demonstrate the foregrounding of Margaret’s relationships with men in the symbols and imagery which surrounded her at the time of her funeral, as well as the similarities between her representation in posthumous texts and those of female saints. The following paper, given by one of the conference organisers, Alejandra Franganillo Álvarez (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), reinforced the utility of funeral orations as sources for studying the fashioning of queenly identities. Her paper, which focused on Queen Isabella of Bourbon, examined the construction of this queen’s persona in later life during a time of war, in particular, studying how her role as queen was conceived of as an equal but opposite counterbalance to the role of king. With the king representing military might, Isabella became a symbol of peace and womanly virtue, garnering identification with strong female figures such as Esther, Judith, and Bellona, some of which were featured in her funeral dedications. These strong female figures were also key to the imagery surrounding the subject of the final paper of this section, Christine of France, Duchess of Savoy. Franca Varallo (Università di Torino) described the various mantles which this queen adopted in her imagery: widow, mother, goddess, equestrian. Christine’s choice of the diamond as her personal symbol, coupled with her representations as strong, bright, and tough on the walls of her home, showed her as a woman well aware of her individual power and the power of imagery to convey it to others. Indeed, each of the queens examined in this section utilised text, imagery, and symbolism in tandem to fashion identities which served their purposes, identities which continued to be reiterated and promoted by their supporters following their deaths.
Section 3: Private Uses of Portraits: Exchange, Collecting, and Display
The third and final section of the conference – which took place on the second day – grappled with a variety of questions regarding the functionality of royal portraits, exploring their publics, mobility, and reproduction. Silvia Mitchell’s (Purdue University, Indiana) paper reconstructed not just the image of the widowed queen Mariana of Austria as regent and queen mother, but also sought to reassemble and analyse her vast collection of luxury goods with the help of a soon-to-be-published inventory. Mitchell’s talk demonstrated that although Mariana found herself in a precarious position following the death of her husband, she managed to bolster her power as queen mother through her depiction in official portraiture, as well as by surrounding herself with precious and magnificent objects such as tapestries, clocks, porcelain, books, and portraits of her relations. The subsequent paper by Andrea Sommer-Mathis and Christian Standhartinger (Academia de Ciencias Austríaca, ÖAW Vienna) expanded upon the importance of objects in the relationships between royal persons, taking a particular interest in the exchange of portraits between courts. By studying the extant letters of the Viennese Habsburgs, Sommer-Mathis and Standhartinger were able to explore both the personal and political functions of these portraits, demonstrating their significance in the establishing of marriage alliances, but also their more human function as aide-mémoirs and love tokens. A true likeness of the person depicted was revealed as a very valuable aspect of such portraits, foregrounding the importance placed on having an able court painter at one’s command. The final paper of the day and of the conference – given by the second of the conference’s organisers, Peter Cherry (Trinity College Dublin) – took a closer look at this facet of portrait painting, focusing on the workshop and output of the painter Velázquez during the 1650s. Raising questions as to the relative agency of a painter and sitter, the sometimes perplexing use of symbolism within portraits, and the painting, repainting, and copying of royal images, Cherry’s research revealed the difficulties inherent in producing sufficient images of a regent to sate international demand, and the necessity for cooperation between court artists, copyists, and their patrons in order to design and disseminate a suitable image of a ruler. By examining portraiture’s complex web of meanings and uses, this section allowed for deeper reflection on the role of portrait as object, sign, and memory.
After a vast array of stimulating papers, the conference ended with the opportunity to explore the themes and topics which had been discussed in a more hands-on way, leaving the confines of the lecture room and venturing out into the cityscape of Madrid. Attendees had a choice between two workshops which each furthered the discussion on one of the central focuses of the conference: one could either visit the Museo Nacional del Prado in order to experience in person and dissect some of the seminal portraits of Habsburg women of the seventeenth century, or else take to the streets in order to explore the “immaterial” legacy of Habsburg women on the urban landscape by reconstructing the itinerary of the royal entry of the Spanish queens into Madrid, this being the most import ceremony associated with them in the Early Modern period. These workshops facilitated a more informal continuation of the stimulating discussions begun by the speakers’ papers and allowed attendees to experience in physical terms the presence of these queens as etched onto the landscape of the city in which they ruled.
This inaugural event was hugely successful, showcasing a fascinating range of work from an international group of scholars. The beautiful surroundings of Centro Cultural la Corrala and the Biblioteca Histórica Marqués de Valdecilla were the perfect setting for a symposium exploring the activities of seventeenth-century Habsburg women, their artistic patronage, and influence over other royal and elite courts. The Biblioteca Histórica Marqués de Valdecilla was simultaneously hosting an exhibition on Universos del conocimiento: libros para pensar, libros para observar, libros para soñar (Universes of knowledge: books to think about, books to observe, books to dream about), which delighted attendees during the breaks, showcasing many beautiful early modern books and prints. Many of the paintings discussed over the symposium are found within the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado, and were enthusiastically discussed on the tour on the final afternoon.
The fascinating discussions that took place across the two-day symposium will form a special edition of the Libros de la Corte which is due for publication in summer 2024. This peer-reviewed, open access journal will not only highlight the work of those who presented at the event, but will also incorporate additional articles related to the main themes explored. With the symposium’s success and this future journal edition to look forward to, Representar La Reginalidad En La Monarquía De Los Austrias (Siglo XVII), will continue to have an impact far beyond two beautifully sunny days spent in Madrid.
For forthcoming symposia organized by the I+D AGENART and for freely available materials on Spanish Queens in English and Spanish, please visit: https://agenart.org/
Photographs are (c) the authors