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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Bernard van Orley’s Portrait of One of the Most Important Women in Sixteenth-Century Europe: The Archduchess Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands and Guardian of the Future Holy Roman Emperor Charles V

Bernard van Orley (Brussels, ca. 1488-1541)
Portrait of the Archduchess Margaret of Austria (1480-1530), bust-length, against a green background
Oil on panel
Panel size: 13 3/4” x 11 1/2”; frame size: 20 1/8” x 19 1/2”

Provenance, exhibition, and literature listed overleaf.

Provenance: Dr. Joachim Carvallo (1869-1936), Paris; with Kleinberger, London, 1927, no. 206, from whom acquired by M. Arens (according to Friedländer, infra), presumably on behalf of Laurent Meeus, Brussels, by 1927, by whom given to the grandfather of the present owners.

Exhibited: Bruges, Exposition de tableaux flamands des XIVe, XVe et XVI siècle, 1902, as Bernard van Orley;  London, Art Gallery of the Corporation of London, Exhibition of works by Flemish and modern Belgian painters, May-July 1906, p. 61, no. 66, as Bernard van Orley; London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Flemish and Belgian Art, January-February 1927, no. 206, as Bernard van Orley, and lent by M. Arens (presumably on behalf of Laurent Meeus, whose label as lender to the exhibition is on the reverse of this painting).

Literature: L. Amaudry, “The Collection of Dr. Carvallo at Paris,” The Burlington Magazine, XXII, 6, January 1905, pp. 300-301, no. IV, illustrated, as Bernard van Orley; M.J. Friedländer, Early Netherlandish Painting, VIII, Jan Gossart and Barent van Orley, Leiden and Brussels, 1972, p. 111, no. 151c, pl. 126.

This magnificent portrait, of one of the most powerful and respected women of the sixteenth century, was firmly attributed to Bernard van Orley at the turn of the twentieth century by the great art historian and connoisseur, Max Friedländer. He regarded it as the superior and the original of a group of similar portraits of Margaret of Austria, painted by Orley and his workshop.  Freidländer’s attribution has been further strengthened by the modern technology of infra-red photography which provides evidence of the fine underdrawing beneath the paint surface. Other inferior workshop examples of the composition include those in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique, Brussels; the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp; the Uffizi, Florence and the City Art Gallery, Bristol.

Orley, Margaret of Austria’s official painter, has captured the nobility and aristocracy in the expression of his formidable sitter. Although she is seen in a widow’s cap and chemisette, Margaret’s energy and passionate character are sensuously portrayed by the softness of her porcelain white skin and slightly parted thick, voluptious lips. Her dark eyes and averted gaze are indications of her imperious will.

The sitter, the Archduchess Margaret of Austria, was the daughter of the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I and his wife, Mary, Duchess of Burgundy, daughter and heiress of Charles the Bold. She became an important political pawn of her powerful family at first betrothed to the French Dauphin, later Charles VIII, under the terms of the 1483 Treaty of Arras. After Charles renounced the treaty in 1493, she returned to her father’s court and two further marriages were arranged. In 1497 Margaret married the son and heir of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile. The Infante died after only six months. In 1501 she married Philibert II, Duke of Savoy and he too died after three years of marriage. Thereafter she remained unmarried and at the age of twenty-four was made Regent of the Netherlands and guardian of her young nephew Charles, the future Holy Roman Emperor. What Margaret lacked in beauty, was more than compensated for by her intelligence, charm and diplomatic talent. She lived during one of the most interesting times in history, a period in which King Francis I of France, Henry VIII of England, princes and popes each struggled for ever greater power. As a member of the most important family in Europe she was privy to all and quickly superceded her families expectations to became a skillful player in a chess game of political alliances.

At Mechelen, in the Netherlands, Margaret established a small but impressive court at the Hof van Kamerrijk. She surrounded herself with poets, painters and musicians, making this a humanist center of northern Europe.  As the principal intermediary between the Emperor and his subjects, she negotiated a treaty of commerce with England and played an important role in the formation of the League of Cambrai in 1508. After his majority in 1515, Charles rebelled against her influence and removed her from her position. He later recognized her as one of his wisest advisers and reappointed Margaret as Regent in 1919, a position she held until her death. One of her last and greatest political acts was the Treaty of Cambrai, called the Ladies' Peace, a treaty negotiated and signed in 1529 by Louise of Savoy, representing her son Francis I of France, and Margaret, representing her nephew Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. The agreement ending one phase of the wars between Francis I and Charles V, temporarily confirming Spanish (Habsburg) control in Italy. 

A Flemish painter and draughtsman, who also worked in tapestries and stained glass, Orley was known as Bernard van Orley, Barend van Orley, or Barend van Brussels. When the German painter, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) stayed in Brussels, he endeared Orley as "the Raphael of the Netherlands." Born in Brussels, it is said that Orley trained under the Italian master, Raphael (1483-1520) in Rome during 1509, though his primary training was most likely under his father, Valentin van Orley (1466-1532). Orley was one of Netherlands' leading artists bringing a Renaissance influence to their work; a style called Romanism. 

As the court painter to Margaret of Austria, he quickly came to the attention of other Habsburg patrons and in 1516 painted Charles V. By 1517 he was a master in the Guild of St. Luke at Antwerp, like his father before him. Margaret commissioned Orley for one of his most respected works, Triptych of Virtue of Patience, in 1521, inspired by her poem. During this period Orley also started a workshop, training Michael Cocxie and Pieter de Kempeneer, who worked with Orley in 1525 on his Last Judgment triptych in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Antwerp. Though this success briefly ended when Orley was chastised as a Protestant sympathizer, he reclaimed his position when Maria of Austria succeeded Margaret's court. 

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