Frans Pourbus the Younger
1569 – 1622
Archduke Albert VII of Austria (1559-1621)
Painted circa 1600
Oil on Card: 3 3/16 x 2 5/8 inches, 8 x 6.5 cm
- Private collection, London, by whom sold
- Christie's, London, 15 October 1996, lot 125;
- Private collection, Belgium until 2012;
- Christie’s, London, 27 - 28 November 2012, lot 290;
- with The Weiss Gallery, 2013;
- The Blaffer Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas
- The Weiss Gallery, The Captured Eye, 2013, no. 16
This exquisitely detailed miniature of the Archduke Albert VII of Austria derives from a full-length portrait of the sitter by the artist, painted around 1599 – 1600, now in the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales in Madrid. Notably in the miniature he wears full armour, whereas in the full-length, he is shown in a breastplate. Pourbus has meticulously rendered every tiny hair, loop of lace, golden curlicue and play of light across the Archduke’s face and armour with a near-microscopic vision. His pleasure in the medium of a miniature is apparent in the magnification (or more precisely, diminution) of his already prodigious attention to detail. The characterisation of the Archduke’s face, his heavy-lidded and slightly weary eyes, full Hapsburg lips, flush of his cheeks and sheen across his nose all convey a remarkably believable likeness.
Albert VII, Archduke of Austria, was the third son of Emperor Maximilian II and Maria of Habsburg. After the death of his brother Archduke Ernst in 1595, he was sent to Brussels to succeed as Governor General of the Hapsburg Netherlands. He presumably commissioned the full-length on which the present miniature was based in 1599 when he relinquished his orders (with special dispensation from the Pope), to celebrate his marriage to the Infanta Isabella, daughter of Philip II of Spain. Albert and Isabella were joint sovereigns of the Hapsburg Netherlands until the Archduke’s death in 1621, ruling the territories in the southern Low Countries and the north of modern France.
The miniature would have been one of a number commissioned from the artist by the Archduke to distribute to loyal courtiers and foreign emissaries, presumably with a pendant miniature of the Archduchess (based on her full-length pendant to the Archduke’s portrait of 1599, likewise in the Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, Madrid). One such pair of miniatures can today be found at Brodick Castle on the Isle of Arran, Scotland (National Trust for Scotland), of the same dimensions and bust-length composition. Ducos dismisses that pair as ‘très bonnes copies (réduites), attestant la faveur du modèle pourbusien vers 1600 – 1605’,1 disproving in his view the artist’s production of miniature copies of his own portraits. However, he later goes on to list other miniatures by Pourbus in full, counter to his own argument.2 Another comparable miniature of the Archduke fully attributed to Frans Pourbus the Younger can be seen in the collection of the Groeningemuseum, Bruges.
1 B. Ducos (op. cit.), p. 297.
2 B. Ducos (ibid.), pp. 215, 228 & 256: P.A.34 Miniature of Marie de’ Mecici, 1606-1607, 5.4 x 4.2 cm.; P.A. 44 Miniature of Marie de’ Medici, 1610, 3.6 x 2.9 cm.; P.A.80 Miniature of Marie de’ Medici, 1615, 4.1 x 3.4 cm.; P.A. 81 Miniature of Marie de’ Medici, 1615, 3.3 x 3.3 cm.
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