Mariana of Austria (1614-1696) was the second wife of Philip IV of Spain, having married in 1649, following the death in 1644 of Isabelle of Bourbon, Philip's first queen. She was the daughter of Emperor Ferdinand III and of Mary of Hungary, sister to Philip IV, and therefore her own husband's niece. Following Philip's death in 1664, Mariana acted as Regent until 1675, when her young son came of age as the ill-fated Charles II. Contemporary accounts state that, upon her arrival at the Spanish court, Mariana was light-hearted and amusing, fond of lavish entertainments. In time, however, the constrictions of rigid court protocol and the pressures upon her to produce a male heir made her increasingly sombre and withdrawn.
Of the many extant portraits of Queen Mariana which portray her while Velzquez was still alive, only two are now unanimously accepted by critics as autograph works--excluding, of course, the reflection seen in the glass in Las Meninas. Following Velzquez's death, she was portrayed as a widow by both Juan Bautista Martnez del Mazo and Juan Carreo de Miranda, who, in their turns, had succeeded Velzquez in the post of Pintor del Rey. The full-length portrait by Velzquez in the Prado is repeated by his studio in at least two versions: one in the Muse du Louvre, Paris, and one in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. This likeness shows the Queen at some time following the birth of her first child, the Infanta Margarita, in 1651. As the Vienna replica is probably the picture sent to the imperial court on February 22, 1653, this provides a terminus ante quem for the original (see J. Brown, Velzquez. Painter and Courtier, 1986, p. 221). The wig worn by the Queen is styled with ringlets, as in the present work, rather than with the wave patterns which became fashionable a few years later. It is of a similar type to the wig worn by the Infanta Mara Teresa in another picture at Vienna, the execution of which is documented December 1653 (op. cit., p. 218). The other autograph portrait of Mariana, unfinished, was almost certainly painted by Velzquez from life for use as a likeness by his studio (Meadows Museum, Dallas). In this shoulder-length work, the wig is styled in waves, of the type seen in the image of Mariana reflected alongside Philip at the rear of Las Meninas, whose date is 1656. The Dallas picture is the model for a disputed half-length portrait in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid, as well as for the face in three-quarter length portrait in the Ringling Museum, Sarasota (which, curiously, draws on the earlier Prado composition, in truncated form, as the model for the body). Until the re-appearance of the present, hitherto undiscovered, painting, there was only one other known image of this particular likeness: a studio work in which the face, hair, jewelry and dress are identical to those in the present picture, but whose composition is extended to three-quarter length, with a landscape background (Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna, op. cit., p. 221, pl. 260). Both the Vienna portrait and the present work may be assumed to be replicas of a lost original, most likely by Velzquez himself.