PRINCE BALTHASAR CARLOS ON HORSEBACK BY DIEGO VELÁZQUEZ
This is the ninth in my series featuring equestrian portraits and this time I am looking at a pony. There is no better fun for many a child than messing about on their pony and this portrait sums up that excitement and joy, even if the young prince looks rather serious.
The portrait was painted circa 1635-6, measures 82” x 68” (6’10” x 5’8”) or 209 x 173cm and is an oil on canvas. It is currently located at Prado, Madrid in Spain.
|Courtesy Wikimedia Commons|
Diego Velázquez was a great Baroque artist. When he painted young Prince Balthasar Carlos, son of Philip IV, he had been a favourite of the King and the Spanish court for more than ten years. The portrait was commissioned to hang over a door between paintings of the King and Queen, in the Salon de Reinos at the Buen Retiro Palace.
The prince, all of six years old, is depicted as a military commander, a general’s gold sash adorning his chest, his sword at his hip and his baton raised ready to direct his forces. He is garbed in the finest gold cloth, secure and confident in both his status and his prowess. The pony is also decked out in gold accoutrements; bridle, breastplate, saddle and stirrups all sparkling beneath the artist’s clever use of highlights. This is no common, hairy pony. This is a fiery steed fit for a prince and is shown charging towards the viewer.
In the background, rolling, wooded hills rise away to snow-capped mountains, perhaps in representation of the country around El Pardo in the north of Spain, where the court had hunted since the 1400s.
By modern standards, the pony is fat, his neck appearing short as he arches it. Nevertheless, the prince is riding with a light contact on the mini curb bit, the rein a fine ribbon of gold. Both rider and pony are confident, each with the other; the prince is secure in his saddle, his hand steady on the rein, while the pony’s eye is calm and focussed as he willingly bounds forward. His mane and tail billow with a similar exuberance, no doubt the result of much diligent brushing by his groom.
One cannot help but feel for the young prince. He has the expensive, well-schooled pony and all the trappings of wealth and privilege, yet, unlike the child from less exalted bloodlines, duty and expectation are never far away. One hopes that the joy of messing about with his pony was not denied him, even if the price of such pleasure was the company of grooms, rather than parents, and the heavy burden of achievement. The same could be said of many a budding show ring star of the twenty-first century. Love cannot be bought, but sometimes there are strings of credit and success attached. It may be said that has been the destiny of princes throughout history… and equally, the pampered ‘princesses’ of today.
© Heather King