Felipe Prospero was greeted with ecstatic celebrations and baptized at the earliest possible moment, to the great joy of his parents and their subjects. Water was brought from the River Jordan for the baptism. The Spanish people celebrated with masquerades, bullfights, processions and also getting drunk and breaking up furniture. But the child was sickly, a fact that Velazquez did not try to hide.
Felipe Prospero is pale. His eyes have a hollow look. Years of inbreeding between the Spanish and Austrian royal families had left him with a damaged immune system.
The amulets tied around his waist and across his chest were meant to ward off disease.
Nothing could help his worst medical problem, though. Inbreeding had left Felipe severely epileptic. The child lived for only a short time after Velazquez painted this portrait. He died of a violent epileptic seizure in 1661, at age 3.
The painting captures the little boy’s wistful beauty, his fragility, and the sadness that surrounded him. His little dog seems already to be mourning the child’s early death.
Velazquez was honored with a special exhibition last winter in Vienna. The museum already has the largest collection of Velazquez paintings outside of Spain, and more were brought in for the spectacular exhibition. Because the Habsburgs enthusiastically intermarried with their Spanish cousins, Velazquez was kept busy painting portraits of prospective brides and grooms at various ages. The portraits are enchanting–and haunting.Velazquez painted this self
portrait the year before his own death in 1660. I imagine the artist had a special feeling for this delicate child, so near to death at such an early age. To me, this painting is a profound reflection of the frailty and brevity of human life.My previous post told the story of Felipe’s older brother, Prince Balthasar Charles. It’s at https://castlesandcoffeehouses.com/2015/07/27/velazquez-in-vienna/
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!