Best known today for his still-lifes, which are among the most remarkable produced in seventeenth century Spain, Van der Hamen was more acclaimed in his lifetime as a painter of portraits. In the 1620s he painted a much-lauded series of some twenty bust-length portraits of the leading intellectuals ('ingenios') of the day, and his considerable reputation is attested to by Cardinal Francesco Barberini's preference to sit to him, rather than Velázquez, in 1626.
Given this success, it is surprising that only seven securely attributed portraits by Juan van der Hamen are known today, of which one is a miniature on copper. Of these, the treatment of the present work is most akin to the Portrait of a Dwarf (Madrid, Prado), which is probably the latest of the surviving portraits. In both paintings, the pose of the sitter in a largely undefined space is indebted to Velázquez, and constitutes a departure from the rigid courtly conventions which had prevailed virtually unchanged in Spain from the time of Antonis Mor onwards. (See W.B. Jordan, Juan van der Hamen y Léon y la Corte de Madrid, Madrid, 2005-6, p. 152, no. 22.) Moreover, in both works, the still-life practitioner's close attention to detail can be observed in the rendering of objects such as the buttons, gold embroidery and even the stitching of shoes, which is strikingly similar. Another clear parallel may be drawn with the fastidious technique displayed in the imposing Portrait of Philip IV (Madrid, Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan; op. cit., p. 218, no. 40), also attributed by Dr. William Jordan to Van der Hamen, and which is another example of an official royal portrait that he is securely known to have painted. The soft and sensitive modelling of the Infante's face, particularly his nose, is close to the artist's superb bust-length portrait of his brother Lorenzo, a prominent political theorist at Court, which formed part of the aforementioned series of 'ingenios' (Madrid, Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan).
Second in line to Philip IV, the short-lived Infante Don Carlos is a somewhat mysterious figure, having been overshadowed by his younger brother, the Cardenal Infante Fernando. Notwithstanding, his portrait by Velázquez in the Prado is one of the great masterpieces of the period. Although Don Carlos is sometimes described as being intellectually limited, it appears this was the result of libellous rumours spread by the King's favourite, the Count-Duke of Olivares, who viewed him as a political threat. In truth it seems the marginalised Infante was actually quite cultivated, as shown by the surviving lines of an elegant sonnet he composed for a certain Ana de Sande.
We are grateful to Dr. William B. Jordan, for proposing the attribution after inspection of the original, and to Dr. Peter Cherry for his endorsement, also after first-hand inspection.