Mariana of Austria, daughter of the Emperor Ferdinand III and Mary of Hungary, was born in Vienna in 1634. Intended as the wife of her cousin, Prince Baltasar Carlos, who died in 1646, she then married his uncle Philip IV of Spain. The issue of this marriage was the Infanta Margarita, Prince Felipe Próspero and Prince Charles, the future Charles II. Second wife of Philip IV, on his death in 1664 Mariana became Regent until 1675. She died on 16 May 1696.
The present canvas, which was in a private collection in Paris, was first published in the catalogue of an auction held at the Hôtel Drouot in Paris on 20 April 1876. Charles B. Curtis included it in his volume on Velázquez and Murillo published in London in 1883. The canvas then disappeared from the literature until 1935 when August Mayer devoted an article to it in The Burlington Magazine. From then on the painting has been the subject of occasional references in the literature. The Museum’s archive has two reports of April and May 1935 in which Mayer and Juan Allende-Salazar stated their opinions on the painting. Both considered it to be by Velázquez and dated it to around 1656. These reports, along with Mayer’s article in The Burlington, coincided with the acquisition of the painting for the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection in 1935.
The attribution of this canvas has been questioned on a regular basis over the years, although Mayer, Enrique Lafuente Ferrari, Bernardino de Pantorba, José López-Rey and José Camón Aznar all included it without any reservations in their monographs on the artist. Another author to accept the painting was José Manuel Pita Andrade in the catalogue that accompanied the exhibition Velázquez, held at the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome in 2001. However, Neil Maclaren expressed doubts, considering that it was not an autograph painting.
The still unresolved issue of the nature of Velázquez’s studio in the Alcázar in Madrid and the difficulties of defining the extent of any workshop participation in many of his portraits of the Spanish monarchs (both Mayer and López-Rey record more than twenty portraits of Mariana of Austria) were expressed in relation to the present work by Fernando Marías and Consuelo Luca de Tena.
Dressed in silks and gauzes and with beautiful jewels and a heavy wig, the Queen is depicted with a few, striking colours, applied with a loose brushstroke that suggests the hair ornaments and the embroidery on the dress rather than clearly defining them.
Among the portraits of Mariana of Austria by Velázquez to have survived is the full-length one in the Museo del Prado, Madrid, of which there is a version in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Among the finest bust-length images are the one in the Meadows Collection, Dallas, and the canvas in the Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid.