|PORTRAIT OF THE INFANTA ISABELLA CLARA EUGENIA
SN 217, oil on canvas, 66x50 in.
Gaspar De Crayer
From "The Pages"
A prolific Flemish painter and draftsman, de Crayer was born in Antwerp and died in Ghent.
He was one of the earliest and most consistent followers of Rubens style which
helped his own reputation. He was active in the southern Netherlands, where altar pieces
and religious paintings that embodied the tenets of the Catholic church were in high
demand. Such pieces form the largest part of his work.
In his youth he moved to Brussels, where he apprenticed himself to Raphael Coxcie, court
painter to Archdukes Albert and Archduchess Isabella. His early work includes portraits of
the Spanish nobility as well as many commissions around Brussels for decorative
altarpieces. He was appointed Dean of the painters guild there (1611-1616) and held
important positions in town government.
De Crayer must have known Rubens for his work shows the latters strong influence.
In fact, De Crayer copied works that he could only have seen in Rubens studio. He
also played a role in the sale of paintings from Rubens estate to Philip IV of Spain. De
Crayers commissions also came from beyond the southern Netherlands as he had Spanish
patrons as well. In Brussels he ran a prominent studio.
Isabella, born August 12, 1566, was the favorite daughter of Philip II of Spain. After her
fathers death in 1599, she married the Archduke Albert. It was after his death that
she became Governess of the Netherlands. Isabella died in Brussels on December 1, 1633.
De Crayer paints Isabella at the approximate age of 30; her black dress is richly
embroidered with gold and silver and has fashionable slashed sleeves. She wears a stiff
lace ruff collar, and a jeweled diadem adorns her head; on her breast is a 15th c enameled
plaque which shows a standing Madonna encircled by rays. Isabella was a major patron of
Rubens, who portrays her dressed as St Clare in Defenders of the Faith (Gal.2).
De Crayers artistic style underwent distinct changes as he matured. During his first
period, until c. 1618, his work reflects prevailing 16th c trends, compositions with
inaccurate depiction of space, and foregrounds crowded with rather stiff figures. Then,
due to the profound influence of Rubens, his style becomes more harmonious and balanced,
his palette determined by contrasting areas of local color. Figures become more monumental
with a greater sense of volume. After 1631, his work became even more dynamic, though the
strongly-modeled character of his figures remains. Van Dyke became important influence
For his many large-scale compositions de Crayer made pen and ink drawings and oil
sketches, some of which are squared for transfer. That some of the oil sketches are in
color is undoubtedly due to Rubens influence, for in Flanders (more than anywhere
else) it was popular to make preliminary oil sketches in grisaille.
This painting was done c.1620 during a period of considerable religious strife. In 1517
Martin Luther had tacked his theses onto the church door in Witttenberg, demanding reforms
in the Catholic church. Though he asked only for change, upheaval was the result -
bringing about the birth of Protestantism. The Catholic church responded to the
Reformation with the Counter-Reformation, a movement that was more than cerebral. Armies
clashed, and in 1625, a resounding victory at the Battle of Breda led Isabella to the
erroneous conclusion that Protestantism was quashed.
Counter-Reformation beliefs were given forceful visual expression and demand was high for
institutional decoration that promoted the tenets of the church. These were successful
times for artists like de Crayer. The church wanted its message through art to be loud,
clear, and unmistakable. Religious experience for the faithful was bolstered by intense,
colorful, and emotion-inspiring paintings which decorated abbeys, convents, monasteries,
and churches. Rubens cycle, The Triumph of the Eucharist, [Galleries 1 & 2] is
the direct result of Isabellas religious fervor and her desire to give a gift to the
convent of her youth, the Order of the Poor Clares.
Portrait of the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia
Artist: Gaspar de Crayer
Flemish, 1584-1669, active in Antwerp
Oil on canvas, 67 1/4 x 50 1/8 in. (170.8 x 127.3 cm)
Isabella Clara Eugenia was a daughter of King Philip II of Spain. In 1599 she married the
Archduke Albert of Austria and after his death became sole governess of the Southern
Netherlands, now modern Belgium. She died in Brussels in 1633. Isabella was a major patron
of Rubens from his early years, culminating with the commission for the Triumph of the
Eucharist series. De Crayer was a follower of Rubens and was also extensively employed by
Isabella and her successor the Archduke Ferdinand. Rubens portrayed the Archduchess
dressed as St. Clare in the cartoon for The Defenders of the Eucharist.
Bequest of John Ringling, 1936, SN217