When Velázquez painted Las Meninas in 1656, the most revolutionary portrait of a Royal Family until that moment until that moment, the Infanta Margarita Maria Teresa of Austria, who at that time was 5 years old, was heiress to the Spanish Crown. In that moment, her brother Carles, hadn’t yet been born but was the one who would end up reigning and who, due to his fragile state of health, would be known by the nickname of The Bewitched. But when Velázquez produced what would be his major masterpiece, Margarita was the guarantee of the continuity of the Austria in the State. The painter placed her at the centre of the composition, dressed in white. The girl, with her long blonde hair, looks at the spectator. Margarita would end up passing into history for being one of the most iconic images in the history of painting.
In 1957 Picasso would also be responsible for multiplying the image of the little Infanta when he produced his series of Las Meninas, which is conserved in the museum, with 45 works that reinterpret the painting by Velázquez, which the artist from Malaga deeply admired. Margarita, therefore, would also become an icon of Picasso’s work given that he would give her a preferential treatment in the series.
Pablo Picasso. Las Meninas (Infanta Margarita Maria). Cannes, 6th September 1957. Oil on canvas. 46 x 38 cm. Donation Pablo Picasso, 1968. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. MPB 70.449
But what sort of life did the little Margarita have? Velázquez had already painted her when she was just 2 years old and would also paint her often in the future, among other things because these portraits were sent to other courts. One of the cities where the portraits would end up was Vienna, where her uncle resided, the emperor Leopold I, and to whom Margarita was engaged with from an early age. Leopold was brother of her mother, Mariana of Austria, niece and second wife of the King Felip IV. The endogamy of the Austrias. Margarita, therefore, despite living a life of luxury, couldn’t choose. For the State, from her birth onwards, the girl was just a currency exchange in European politics and her marriage to Leopold represented the reconciliation between the two branches of the Habsburg.
As the Prince Carles suffered from delicate health and Margarita was next in line for the Spanish throne, the marriage of the Infanta with Leopold would be “delayed” until 1666, when the young girl would be 15 years old and the emperor 26. The marriage was held by proxy on 15th April and a few days later the young girl, accompanied by a luxurious entourage, began the journey towards Vienna, which would end up taking 7 months. One of the stops during the trip was Barcelona, in which they were received with great pomp and pageantry. Because of an indisposition, the recently crowned empress consort of the Holy Roman Empire stayed a month in the city of Barcelona. She finally arrived in Vienna on December 5th.
It seems that the relationship between the emperor and Margarita was good. Both of them shared the love for the theatre and the opera and the empress promoted the representation of Spanish authors in the capital. But a tragic fate was awaiting them. Margarita had four children but only one would reach adult age, Maria Antonia. The first one only lived for one year and the third survived just a few hours. Margarita, very depressed, became pregnant once again in 1673 but did not overcome the complications of her fourth birth and both the mother, only 21 years old, as well as the baby, died. The empress was buried in the Capuchin Crypt of Vienna.
In the series of Las Meninas by Picasso, the bright image of the Infanta is reinterpreted individually up to 17 times. And the variations range from the portrait in black and white to multicoloured, from representing her with simple shapes to stains, or with rhythmic, dense and superimposed brushstrokes. However, it did not stop him from treating her with sweetness at all times. Velazquez placed the person who was to be the Austrian empress at the centre of our view and Picasso did not hesitate doing the same when paying homage to the Master from Seville.
Pablo Picasso. Las Meninas (Infanta Margarita Maria). Cannes, 14the September 1957. Oil on canvas. 100 x 81 cm. Donation Pablo Picasso, 1968. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. MPB 70.459
Pablo Picasso. Las Meninas (Infanta Margarita Maria). Cannes, 21st August 1957. Oil on canvas. 100 x 81 cm. Donation Pablo Picasso, 1968. Museu Picasso, Barcelona. MPB 70.436