Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598) 1550s

Alonso Sanchez Coello, Follower of c.1531 - 1588

Portrait of King Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), Alonso Sanchez Coello, Follower of
Oil on paper laid on panel
16th Century
14 1/2 x 11 inches 37.2 x 27.8 cm
In the collection of Mr and Mrs C R Apprasio, Monte Carlo (as attributed to Titian).
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Antonio Sanchez Coello occupied one of the first places in Spanish Court portraiture from the 1550s onward. His training would appear to have been conducted under the great Sir Antonis Mor, although the influence of Titian is also considerable, and Philip II referred to Sanchez Coello as ''my Portuguese Titian.'' His portrait oeuvre is prolific, including not only members of the Royal Family, but also prominent Spanish churchmen. His portraits of Philip II, however, make up the largest single share of his work, and he painted the King in numerous costumes and guises. The face pattern seen in the present painting, for example, conforms exceedingly closely to a portrait by Coello of King Philip II of Spain as Solomon (Gotisches Haus, Woerlitz), although of course the dress is quite different. Our painting would appear to have been produced in the painter's studio, perhaps as a guide for producing other versions, since the execution on paper would be unusual for any other purpose.

Philip II of Spain occupies a remarkable double role in the history of England, first as its King during his marriage to Mary Tudor from 1554-1558, and then as the country''s implacable enemy, culminating in the Armada of 1588. In 1543 Philip, the son of the Emperor Charles V, married his cousin Mary of Portugal, but the marriage was short-lived, and the bride died in 1545. Nine years later his father decided that he should marry Mary Tudor. The motive for this was political, and the Emperor hoped for an alliance with England and the Netherlands against France. For her part Mary was delighted. She was half-Spanish, and fervently believed that closer ties with Spain would be invaluable in restoring England to the Roman Catholic faith.

The marriage was unsuccessful. Philip was unpopular in England -his arrival in 1554 had provoked Wyatt''s Rebellion- and Mary's pregnancies were revealed as an incipiently malign condition of her womb. Knowing that he would not be given any true political power in England Philip left the country and returned to Spain. His interest in English affairs remained keen, however, and as Mary hastened towards her death in 1558, Philip saw Elizabeth her sister as a further bulwark against the French cause, championed by her cousin Mary of Scots. By 1559, military victory and marriage to a French princess removed much of the danger posed by France, now leaving England under Queen Elizabeth an heretical and potentially hostile power.

Spanish persecution of Protestants in the Netherlands during the 1560s intensified English hostility, whilst events such as the Massacre of St Bartholomew in France suggested to observers that a coming conflict would be between the Catholic and Protestant powers in Europe. Philip's immediate position was consolidated by the victory over the Turks at Lepanto in 1571 and the conquest of Portugal in 1580. His relations with England worsened, and he deplored both the help that Elizabeth gave to the Dutch Protestants and her tacit encouragement of the English pirates who robbed his treasure fleets. In 1585 the English sent an expeditionary force to the Netherlands, and in 1587 Drake attacked the Spanish Fleet in port. This was too much for Philip, and in the following year he launched his long-planned Armada. This fleet was destroyed on its arrival in English waters by the skill of the English sailors and then by a great storm which struck the Spanish ships as they tried to sail homeward around the British coast.

The destruction of the Armada effectively ended the Spanish threat to England, and was a severe reverse to Spanish power in Europe. Philip lived for another decade, dying in 1598 at the Escorial, the magnificent Palace Monastery which had been his project since its inception in 1563.
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