Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Portrait of an Infanta. Catherine of Aragon (?)
  • Creator: Juan de Flandes, painter
  • Description:

    Hiring a painter for the royal family was a top priority for Isabella I of Castile, dubbed a “master propagandist” by scholar Barbara Weissberger. She chose Juan de Flandes, a Flemish artist, because the Hispano-Flemish art movement had become popular in the late 15th century. Portraits of the family intentionally establish their power and wealth for their immediate subjects and remind future generations of their place in society because a lasting representation of their bloodline is created.

    The clothing style of the sitter is simple, especially in comparison to the supposed painting’s putative companion, an image thought to be of Juana la Loca, Catherine's sister, who wears a dress with lace and gold details on the corset. This subject, however, is in a white dress with unassuming black and gold detail at the neck and shoulders where it is ruched. A neutral colored ribbon is wrapped into her styled hair. The artist follows Hans Memling’s technique in giving great attention to surface details of fabric, hair, and decoration.

    This portrait is thought to be one of Queen Isabella’s daughters. Many scholars argue the portrait is of Catherine of Aragon. She would have been eleven years old when she sat for this painting. At this age, she may have witnessed her mother’s support of the Inquisition and her strong anti-Semitic views and hatred of heresy. She travelled often with her family as the royal couple visited different cities to enforce their rule. Catherine’s adult life was also tumultuous. From the age of three, she was promised to marry Prince Arthur. At the age of sixteen she went to England to marry Arthur, but he died five months later. Catherine then married his brother, King Henry VIII. Her marriage to Henry led to the birth of three sons and three daughters, but five of the children died at a young age. With only one daughter, Mary, surviving, Catherine produced no male heirs to the throne. This led to Henry VIII’s dissatisfaction with the marriage and desire to wed Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn. The Pope would not allow Henry to annul his marriage to Catherine, provoking him to separate from the Roman Church and became the head of the Church in England. His position of power allowed him to annul his marriage with Catherine. She was very much against the separation and gained support from the English public as she fought for her rights and those of her daughter. In the end, though, Catherine was repudiated and unable to see her daughter. She died on January 7, 1536 at Kimbolton in Cambridgeshire.

    The rose in her hand has been posited as a symbol of the Tudor Dynasty as Catherine married the Prince of Wales, but could also represent the sitter’s youthful age. Though the painting has been strongly connected to Catherine of Aragon, others have identified her as Juana la Loca or Maria, both also daughters of Isabella I. If the subject is Maria, the painting could be a token of betrothal. At the time of the painting, Maria was being used in a political arrangement as a bride to Manuel of Portugal, in order to strengthen the relationship between Spain and Portugal.

  • Source: Wikimedia Commons
  • Rights: Public Domain
  • Subject (See Also): Betrothal Isabella I, la Catolica, Queen of Castile Catherine of Aragon, Queen-Consort of Henry VIII of England Marriage Portraits Princesses
  • Geographic Area: Iberia
  • Century: 15
  • Date: ca. 1496
  • Related Work:

    Copy of the Infanta portrait likely of Catherine of Aragon at the Art, Design and Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara: http://finearts.museum.ucsb.edu/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=link;dtype=d;key=21753;page=701900101#;

    Companion portrait(?) by Juan de Flandes possibly of Catherine's oldest sister, Juana la Loca: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juan_de_Flandes_003.jpg

    Portrait by Juan de Flandes of Philippe le Beau, duke of Burgundy, husband of Juana la Loca, queen of Castile: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Juan_de_Flandes_-_Portrait_of_Philip_the_Handsome_-_WGA12046.jpg

  • Current Location: Madrid, Spain, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, INV. Nr. 141 (1930.36)
  • Original Location: Iberia
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital images; Paintings
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Panel paintings; Tempera; Oil
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 31.5/21.7 /
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Ishikawa, Chiyo. The Retablo de Isabel la Católica by Juan de Flandes and Michel Sittow. Brepols, 2004. Pages 46-47;
    Silva Maroto, Maria Pilar. "En torno a Juan de Flandes, pintor de corte de Isabel la Católica" in Maestros en la sombra edited by F. Calvo Serraller. Galaxia Gutenberg: Círculo de Lectores, 2013. Pages 25-43;
    Silva Maroto, Maria Pilar. Juan de Flandes. Caja Duero, 2006;
    Tremlett, Giles. "Infanta": Catherine of Aragon: Henry's Spanish Queen. Faber and Faber, 2010. Pages 37-52.