In this blog series our curators, archivists, conservators and learning team will be bringing together works of art from across the Collection under one theme. From armour and jewellery, to portraits and porcelain, read about some of the most fascinating and marvellous pieces in the Collection here.
Today we will be looking at the theme of 'Family'. Explore the Habsburg family through the portraits of Prince Baltasar Carlos and Princess Margarita, the Collection's Dutch masterpiece, Celebrating the Birth, by Jan Steen and a luxurious christening present made of silver.
Prince Baltasar Carlos in Silver by Diego Velázquez, 1633, and The Infanta Margarita, after Diego Velázquez, after 1656
Families can be complicated, but the Habsburg lineage has to be amongst the most complicated. Prince Baltasar Carlos (1629 – 1646) and Princess Margarita (1651 – 1673) were the children on Felipe IV of Spain (1605 – 1665). The first, the son of his first wife Isabel of Bourbon (1629 – 1646). The second the daughter of his second wife Mariana of Austria (1634 – 1696), Felipe’s niece who had previously been betrothed to his son Baltasar Carlos.
Both children were their parents’ favourites and carried on their shoulders the responsibility of continuing the Spanish Habsburg dynasty. Baltasar Carlos was the heir to the Spanish throne, and Margarita was to marry the Austrian Emperor, her uncle Leopold I.
These portraits were important diplomatic tools, sent to other royal families to build new partnerships through marriage, as well as to their family members in other European courts. They project the power of future monarchs and key players in the European diplomatic scene, and at the same time they are sweet depictions of children for their loved ones.
Imagine your own princely story with our Prince for a Day writing activity.
Baby-linen basket probably by Lucas Luicksen, c. 1670
This silver basket was used for a newborn child’s layette that consisted of nappies and clothes, including a christening dress. Baby-linen baskets were usually made of cane. However, the richest Dutch families owned baskets made of silver. They were given as luxurious christening presents.
Only seven baby-linen baskets made in the Netherlands are known to survive, all dating from the seventeenth century.
Celebrating the Birth by Jan Steen, 1664
The Dutch to this day use the term ‘A Jan Steen household’ to mean an absolute tip, or a pigsty. Children running riot, mess everywhere, sound familiar? In this painting, even the tiled floor appears to tilt upwards alarmingly, as if its chaotic contents are about to spill out of the picture.
At different times in his life, Jan Steen ran a tavern, which no doubt gave him plenty of source material for his humorous subjects. Here Steen presents us with a bawdy variant on the world-upside-down theme. A party to celebrate the birth of a baby (a Dutch custom) is in full swing, but the ‘father’ (in the party hat) looks utterly disconcerted—and outnumbered-- by women, who make a mockery of the notion that he is either the father or indeed the ‘master of the household.’ The only other man in the scene makes the sign of the cuckold as he flees the room. He has been identified as Jan Steen, who often included his self-portrait grinning at the viewer, as a conspirator (see also the smiling man in Merrymaking in a Tavern).
The Painter's Family by Peter Adolf Hall, 1776
Hall’s elegant and graceful portrait of his family epitomises the purpose of portrait miniatures: to be used as personal keepsakes of loved ones. As a group portrait it is particularly ambitious.
Hall uses his soft, pastel-like technique to create a tender and informal portrait of his wife Adelaide, their little daughter Lucie and his sister-in-law Marie-Victoire (who entertains the baby with a rattle). The three are physically linked through their gracefully intertwined arms, fitting beautifully into the oval format of the miniature. The dynamic quality of his technique captures their vivacity and the scintillating texture of their clothes.
Dagger, India, early 17th century
In October 1617, the Mughal prince Khurram (1592 – 1666), son of the emperor Jahangir, returned to his father’s court after a successful military campaign. In an emotional ceremony, he was given the title Shah Jahan, and presented with gifts, including a jewelled dagger.
The Wallace Collection’s dagger was made in the imperial workshop around the time of Khurram’s victorious return to the court, and two near contemporary paintings of his renaming ceremony show him bearing a remarkably similar dagger on his sash, including the highly unusual duck’s head terminal. Despite this lavish gift, however, Khurram led a rebellion against his father a mere five years later.
Madame de Ventadour with Louis XIV and his Heirs, French School, 1715–20
In the pre-PhotoShop era, this artist has managed to give us a remarkable cut-and-paste portrait — for none of the figures depicted were alive at the same time. By copying likenesses from well-known sources, he has conjured up an imaginary reunion, of an extraordinary family. The little boy on a lead is the duc d’Anjou, future Louis XV. His ancestors, Henri IV and Louis XIII, appear allusively in the form of busts on the left and right. Louis XIV sits grandly at the center of the picture with his son, Louis the Grand Dauphin, standing behind him. On the right is his grandson — the father of the little boy soon to become Louis XV.
This family group is organised around a central female figure. The standing woman in black is the duchesse de Ventadour, Louis XV’s governess, who saved him during the measles epidemic of 1712. Her actions, which ensured the continuity of the Bourbon dynasty, are celebrated by the very fact that the family is together again, even if only in paint.