Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria (1559-1621), wearing the robes of the Order of the Golden Fleece 

Circle of Frans Pourbus the Younger (1569-1622)

Portrait of Albert VII, Archduke of Austria (1559-1621), wearing the robes of the Order of the Golden Fleece, Circle of Frans Pourbus the Younger
Oil on canvas
18 ľ x 24 ins., (46.3 x 61 cm.)
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This portrait shows Albert VII, fifth son of Emperor Maximilian II (1527-76) and Maria of Spain (1528-1603), and was probably painted soon after his investiture into the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1596.

Albertís early life was spent at the Spanish court under the guardianship of his uncle King Philip II of Spain (1527-98) and in 1583, following Spainís successful claim of the Portuguese throne, Albert was appointed Viceroy to Portugal. He was also around this time ordained as Archbishop of Toledo and in 1595, following the death of his brother Archduke Ernest (1553-95), Albert went to Brussels where he was announced Governor General of the Habsburg Netherlands. He immediately set to work strengthening the Spanish military presence in the Low Countries, which had been weakened following a string of defeats against the European powers.

The Order of the Golden Fleece played a crucial role in this reform of confidence, for it outwardly celebrated and encouraged the chivalric qualities expected in the military ranks, whilst also symbolising unwavering loyalty to the Roman Catholic Church, to which Albert was deeply connected. Much like other European orders, such as the Order of Garter, membership was limited, and in this case to just fifty knights plus the sovereign, who decided on who was to be admitted.

In 1598, following a treaty signed between Spain and France, Albert announced he would marry Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566-1633), daughter of Philip II, thereby securing sovereignty of the Habsburg Netherlands. As by this point Albert was still a cardinal, he had to request the permission of Pope Clement VIII (1536-1603), and after resigning from the College of Cardinals, the pair were married in April 1599. The pair had no issue and on his death on 13th July 1621, the sovereignty was passed to Philip IV of Spain (1605-65).

This work was probably painted by an artist from the studio of Frans Pourbus the younger, who we know was commissioned by Albert and Isabella on numerous occasions, and would have been displayed, perhaps by a courtier or other political ally, as a symbol of loyalty. Much attention has been focussed here on the richness of the scarlet robes - a colour worn by Cardinals symbolising the blood of Christ - and no doubt worn here as a visual reminder of the orderís religious principles.

Intriguingly, at some point in the past, the canvas appears to have had a strip of the uppermost section cut away, and then added to the top of the canvas before being painted over to blend in with the background. This was perhaps done to create more space between the edge of the frame and the red cap, or maybe to match a companion work within the same collection. It has since been re-revealed with conservation and cleaning.
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