Unwrapping an Icon: What are the other paintings we’re looking at?

This month, we share a couple of photos of our recent study session of the X-ray of one of the comparative paintings we’re studying on the project. And we also explain a bit about these related portraits and why we’re including them as part of project.

What are the other paintings we’re looking at?

So far our blog has looked at Lady in a Fur Wrap, attributed to El Greco, and explained why this painting is central to the research project. We’ve also discussed with Dr Mark Richter some of the technical investigation taking place, and looked at some of the ongoing publicity. But the project is entitled Unwrapping an Icon: Lady in a Fur Wrap and Related Portraits. So what exactly are the other paintings being investigated, and why? This post takes a look at the comparative portraits and the reasons why these particular paintings were chosen.

 Project Aims

There’s a lot of speculation about the ‘mystery’ of who painted the Lady in a Fur Wrap and who the sitter might be. We want to explore all aspects of this painting, though of course there are no guarantees of what we’ll find. We’re convinced that one of the keys to understanding the Lady lies in knowing more about the context of portraiture in 16th-century Spain. That’s why this project is not solely about the Lady in a Fur Wrap herself: comparison with other portraits created around the same time is a vital part of our research. Our broader aims for the project include the following:

  • To bring together leading art historians, curators, conservators and conservation scientists in Scotland and Spain in an interdisciplinary dialogue around the Lady in a Fur Wrap
  • To assess new research and existing evidence on the many questions surrounding the painting
  • To provide a framework for interpretation and display of this and related portraits within Scotland’s leading public collection of Spanish art
  • To offer concrete outputs accessible to both specialists and the wider public
  • To use the Network as the prototype for a larger project to catalogue the Stirling Maxwell Collection of Spanish paintings.

Looking at the comparative portraits will help us achieve these aims. Our research on them will enable us to provide our ‘framework for interpretation and display’, as well as contributing to the cataloguing of the Stirling Maxwell Collection. So what exactly are the other portraits being examined?


The Related Portraits


Philip II, King of Spain, by Alonso Sánchez Coello
(1531/32-1588), oil on canvas, c1570 © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

Compared with the remarkable informality of the Lady in a Fur Wrap, the magnificent portrait of Philip II is one of the finest examples of an image of political power by the king’s favourite portrait painter.

Anne of Austria, 4th Queen of Philip II of Spain, by Alonso Sánchez Coello (1531/32-1588), oil on canvas, c1570 © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

The portrait of Philip’s fourth Queen is more typical of the few representations of women in this period in its formality and the rich, high-necked dress and ruff.

Don John of Austria, attributed to Jorge de la Rúa (active 1552-1578), oil on canvas © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

The portrait of the Philip II’s half-brother, Don John of Austria, attributed to Jorge de la Rúa, also shows the formality of the dominant court style.

Portrait of a Gentleman, by El Greco (1541–1614), oil on canvas © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

El Greco’s Portrait of a Gentleman is an example of the later style of the artist and is likely to represent a high-ranking member of society in Toledo around the turn of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Portrait of a Knight in Armour, Spanish 16th century, oil on card, mounted on wood © CSG CIC Glasgow Museums Collection

The miniature Portrait of a Knight in Armour is one of many playing-card sized portraits in this period and is attributable to the Circle of El Greco.

The project is looking at all of these paintings with regard to their materials and artistic technique, the attribution to a particular artist or workshop, and the identity or status of the sitter. One of our key tools is scientific analysis – as we’ve discussed in previous posts. But equally important are the history of dress, society and collecting, including the provenance of each of the portraits.

Why these other paintings in particular?

Major reasons for selecting these specific paintings include:

  1. To look at the wider context of the production of Spanish paintings at this period
  2. To compare the workshop practice of different artists
  3. To investigate different types of portraiture produced in this period, including how formal and informal portraits differed, the audience for portraits of different kinds, and their representation of women
  4. To look at why they were collected by Sir William Stirling Maxwell

By looking at these six paintings using a comparative approach, and working in collaboration with our project partners, we hope we’ll be able to understand – and share – much more about how artists worked in 16th-century Spain and their relationship with their clients.

Look out for more on these comparative paintings, and on the enigmatic Lady in a Fur Wrap of course, as well as Stirling Maxwell’s interest in them, in future posts.

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