Recently rediscovered, this striking portrait of Marguerite d’Orléans captures the duchesse de Lorraine in three-quarter profile against a cloth of golden damask with a stylized pomegranate motif. The warm tonalities of the fabric compliment the sitter’s pale skin, so polished it emits a pearlescent glow, as well as the icy color scheme of her elegant attire. Fashionably styled in short, full waves, the duchesse’s hair is of a slightly darker shade of silver than the satin of her virago sleeves, stomacher and underskirt visible beneath a black gown. Pink striped bows complete this study in platinum elegance, adding vibrant touches of color that echo the coral of Marguerite’s lips. Held between graceful, tapered fingers, a yellow fan acts as yet another mark of the sitter’s sophistication while guiding the spectator’s eye toward her face, framed by a wide lace collar that enhances her regal countenance. Serene and self-assured, the duchesse gazes candidly at the viewer with steel blue eyes, which, as befits her royal status, reveal nothing of the tumultuous life she has led.
This remarkable portrait is one of two autograph versions painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck; the other is now in the collection of the Dukes of Bedford at Woburn Abbey. An old photograph of our portrait was mistakenly used as an illustration for the Woburn Abbey picture in the most recent catalogue raisonné on the artist, leading to some confusion regarding the versions (M.D. Padron, loc. cit.). Recently cleaning has revealed exceptionally fine passages. As Malcolm Rogers observes: “The head of Marguerite in [the] painting is rendered with the greatest refinement and delicacy; the characterization somewhat reserved. The splendours of her gown, with its brilliant colour-scheme of black, scarlet and white, are rendered with the greatest freshness and virtuosity, as exemplified in the treatment of the ribbons on the front of her stomacher and on the right sleeve, where the paint truly seems to flow” (written communication, 11 December 2014). This virtuoso brushwork combined with the presence of several pentimenti that were previously obscured by years of discolored varnish (now visible, for example, along the edge of her fan and on the knuckles of her left hand) suggests that this is the work not of a copyist but of Van Dyck himself, likely painted at the same time as the Woburn Abbey portrait. The attribution has been confirmed based on firsthand examination by both Malcolm Rogers and Susan Barnes.
Marguerite de Lorraine (1615-1672) was the younger daughter of Prince François II de Lorraine, Count of Vaudémont, and Countess Christina von Salm. On 3 January 1632, the young princess secretly married King Louis XIII’s younger brother, Gaston, Duke of Orléans, who was heir presumptive to the French throne at the time and therefore given the honorific title “Monsieur”. The French court of the 1630s was caught in a complex power struggle between the issueless young king, his mother, Marie de Medici, and her former advisor-turned-rival Cardinal Richelieu, and consequently the marriage had tremendous political implications. Gaston’s previous marriage to Marie de Bourbon, Duchess of Montpensier (d. 1627) had resulted in the birth of a daughter, Anne Marie Louise d’Orléans, Mademoiselle de Montpensier (known as La Grande Mademoiselle), who could not inherit the throne due to French Salic Law. A son born to Marguerite, therefore, could potentially accede.
Knowing their union placed them in a precarious position, the couple independently fled France soon after their wedding. Gaston departed for Brussels in January 1632 to join his mother, Marie de’ Medici, who had herself left the kingdom following a dispute with Richelieu. Marguerite initially remained in Nancy with her sister Henriette, but the Cardinal laid siege to the city when he attacked the Duchy of Lorraine in 1633. In September of that year, the duchesse succeeded in escaping using a disguise and with the assistance of her brother, the Cardinal Francois de Lorraine. According to later accounts, she wore a dark wig and covered her face with soot in order to pass herself off as a member of her brother’s entourage (see M. Petitot, ed., Mémoires de Gaston, duc d’Orléans, Paris, 1824, XXXI p. 150, n. 1).
In early September 1634, Van Dyck was elected to the Guild of Saint Luke in Antwerp; shortly after his arrival in that city, according to one of his early 18th-century biographers, he received an order to travel to the ducal court at Brussels to paint portraits of Marguerite and her sister, as well as of Gaston de France, the Count of Moret, and the Prince of Carignan (La vie, les ouvrages et les élèves de Van Dyck, unpublished manuscript, Archives du Louvre, cited in E. Larsen, op. cit., p. 342-343). The anonymous biographer also specifies that the Cardinal-Infant Ferdinand of Austria, who arrived the following 4 November from Germany, also wished to be painted by Van Dyck. It has been suggested that these paintings were commissioned to serve as swagger portraits designed to help the members of this rebellious faction promote themselves and secure support.
Of similar dimensions and featuring a comparable setting, the portrait of Marguerite may have been painted as a pendant to her husband Gaston’s likeness, the best version of which is preserved in Chantilly’s Musée Condé (fig. 1), although it also works well as a counterpart to her sister Henriette’s portrait (fig. 2; Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, London). Van Dyck painted the two sisters in late 1634, and Gaston’s portrait may date to September of that year, although it, or another version may have also been painted a year or two earlier (writing in 1672, Giovanni Pietro Bellori lists a portrait of Gaston amongst the works painted by Van Dyck in Brussels along with his portrait of Marie de Médicis; see S. Barnes, et al, op. cit., p. 341, no. III.115). This was a particularly tense political period and eventually, for Marguerite, a time of personal tragedy. Unwilling to accept that the heir presumptive had married a member of the House of Lorraine (a family allied with France’s Habsburg rivals), Louis XIII ordered the Parliament of Paris to annul the marriage in September 1634, effectively stripping Marguerite of her honorary title, “Madame.” Marguerite struggled in vain for nearly a decade to reclaim her lost status, insisting that she should continue to be addressed as the duchesse d'Orléans. It was only on his deathbed, however, that Louis XIII finally granted his blessing to the couple so that they could wed legitimately. Gaston and Marguerite were finally received at court as “Monsieur” and “Madame” after their official marriage in July 1643, and would eventually have five children of which only three girls would reach maturity. As old photographs (fig. 3) and inventories reveal, up until the early twentieth century when our portrait was cut down from full-length to three-quarter-length, the words “Madama la ducesse dorlio” appeared along the lower edge. If this inscription was added to the painting when it was created in 1634, it would have functioned as a powerful declaration of what Marguerite would continue to claim was her rightful title for the following nine years. The inscription can unquestionably be traced back to 1680, when it was recorded in a document describing a loan of the painting from the Leganés collection to the Duke of Medina Sidonia (J.J.P. Preciado, op. cit., p. 324).
Although the precise details of the portrait’s creation are unknown, Marguerite de Lorraine herself may have personally commissioned at least one of the versions. Previously unknown to scholars, a document dated 2 December 1634 lists a payment of 200 livres by the duchess to Van Dyck for her portrait. Now lost, this payment record was included in a sale of the collection of autographs formed by M. Dubrunfaut organized by M. Ernest Girard in Paris on 29-30 January 1883, lot 160. Certainly, the record refers to either the present painting or the portrait in Woburn Abbey. If, as this document indicates, Marguerite paid Van Dyck directly for her portrait, she may initially have kept it as part of her personal collection. In the following year, however, the present portrait appears to have been acquired by Diego Felipe de Guzmán, Marqués de Leganés (c. 1585-1655).
The Marqués de Leganés amassed a considerable art collection during his years at the court in Brussels and in the Spanish Netherlands in the late 1620s and early 1630s. He was a member of the council of war from 1622, a chamberlain to Philip IV from 1624, and later a commander in the army of the Cardinal-Infante, the younger brother of Philip IV. Following a momentous victory at the battle of Nördlingen in 1634, Leganés entered Brussels alongside the Cardinal-Infante on 4 November 1634 and it may have been at this time that Léganes commissioned Van Dyck’s full-length portrait of himself (National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo). In the spring of 1635, Leganés left the Spanish Netherlands for Madrid, bringing with him his portrait as well as the many other paintings that he had acquired abroad. Marguerite’s portrait is first recorded in the Marqués’ 1637 inventory, as number 437 (J.J.P. Preciado, op. cit., p. 324, incorrectly transcribed as 427), and in all likelihood was already in his collection when he left Brussels two years earlier. Notably, in the 1933 photograph of the present painting, the number 437 appears at lower left (fig. 4), thus securely linking this version to the Leganés collection.
In the late 1820’s, Leganés’s descendant, the Conde de Altamira sold the Portrait of Marguerite to Jose de Madrazo y Agudo (1781-1859) a royal painter, curator and first Director of the Prado Museum. In 1828, it was seen in Madrazo’s collection by Sir David Wilkie (A. Cunningham, loc. cit.). Madrazo later sold the painting to Infante Don Sebastián Gabriel de Borbón, whose remarkable collection he helped form.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Don Sebastián Gabriel was the only child of Maria Teresa of Bragança, Princess of Beira, daughter of King João VI of Portugal, and a great-grandson of Charles III of Spain. From an early age, Sebastián cultivated his taste for, and deepened his knowledge of pictures, which extended beyond the enjoyment of collecting to an interest in the technical aspects of painting itself; in fact, he wrote a treatise on that very subject, De los aceites y barnices de que se hace uso en pintura (Madrid, 1860). His collection totaled over 700 pictures by the time he died. Spanish artists were strongly represented, and he owned works by the greatest names of the 16th and 17th centuries – El Greco, Velázquez, Ribera, Murillo – as well as pictures by Goya. Don Sebastián also had some key Italian and northern Renaissance masterpieces, including Rosso Fiorentino’s The Dead Christ with Angels and Rogier van der Weyden’s Saint Luke Drawing the Virgin (both Boston, Museum of Fine Arts). His collector’s mark, an ‘SG’ with an open royal coronet above, is branded on the stretcher of this picture and is also reproduced on the canvas's reverse (fig. 5).