Mariana: Velázquez’s Portrait of a Queen from the Museo Nacional del Prado

Diego Velázquez’s extraordinary painting Queen Mariana of Austria (1652–53) forms the core of the exhibition Mariana: Velázquez’s Portrait of a Queen from the Museo Nacional del Prado, organized as part of the Norton Simon Museum’s Loan Exchange Program with the Spanish national art museum.

One of Velázquez’s most accomplished and imposing portraits, Queen Mariana of Austria depicts the 18-year-old monarch in full, magnificent splendor. She is clad in quintessential Spanish fashion, a luxurious black and silver dress worn over the rigid support structure known as the guardainfante—so-called because its dramatically wide hips could skillfully mask pregnancy. The young queen, recently recovered from the birth of her first child with King Philip IV, gazes out with a somber, almost inscrutable expression, somewhat at odds with the spirited flamboyance of her beribboned wig and colossal feathered headpiece. Mariana was Velázquez’s first major composition after returning to Madrid from several years in Rome, and it ushered in a distinctive and final chapter of the artist’s storied career. For the first time, the artist focused primarily on images of women and children, which he depicted with great sensitivity and a new flair for color.

The exhibition seeks to show how the dynamic interrelationship between art and life not only inspired Velázquez’s dazzling and enigmatic portrait of Mariana but also shaped the worldview of the queen as she fashioned her new political role. Exhibited on the West Coast for the very first time, Velázquez’s monumental image will be installed alongside an international group of artists whose works were collected by the Habsburg court. Paintings by Nicolas Poussin, Guido Reni and Peter Paul Rubens, all highlights of the Norton Simon Museum’s collections, evoke Mariana’s quotidian access to remarkable works of art, and they invite comparisons between Velázquez and artists he knew and admired. Mariana: Velázquez’s Portrait of a Queen will be displayed in proximity to the Museum’s paintings by Jusepe de Ribera, Bartolomé-Esteban Murillo and Francisco de Zurbarán, offering a rare opportunity to experience this essential quartet of 17th-century Spanish painters under one roof.