NGV National Gallery of Victoria

Philip II

Sofonisba Anguissola
Italian c.1532–1625
Philip II 1656
oil on canvas
88.0 x 72.0 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid (P01036)

Lived: 21 May 1527 – 13 September 1598

Reigned: 16 January 1556 – 13 September 1598

Married to Maria Manuela of Portugal (154345); Mary I of England (155458); Elisabeth of Valois (155968); Anna of Austria (157080).

In January 1556, upon the abdication of his father Charles I, Philip II was crowned King of Spain, the Spanish Americas, the Spanish possessions in Italy and the low countries of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. He was an avid collector and in his younger years his tastes were eclectic. His vast collections were displayed in the Escorial, a complex consisting of a monastery and royal palace that he had built near Madrid. Initially he was drawn to northern European artists, especially the works of Hieronymus Bosch, Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, but gradually his tastes broadened. On a visit to northern Italy he was introduced to the works of Leonardo da Vinci, Andrea Mategna and other masters of the High Renaissance. In 1548 he met Titian and after 1550 Philip II became Titian’s most important patron, eventually acquiring 30 of the artist’s works including mythological, religious, portrait, political and allegorical paintings. Titian enjoyed a unique relationship with the king, whereby he gladly accepted everything the artist sent him, without having been given instructions as to their content. The palace at El Pardo contained nineteen Habsburg portraits by Titian, which unfortunately were all destroyed in a fire in 1604. Philip II was also fond of other Venetian artists including Jacopo Bassano, Paolo Veronese and Jacopo Tintoretto. He rarely acquired works by artists outside the Veneto, only accepting their works as gifts.
As Philip II’s appreciation of Italian art increased, this shift was also reflected in his building projects, whereby he employed architects and decorators who worked in the Italianate Renaissance style. As principal architect of the Escorial, Philip appointed Juan Bautista de Toledo, who had trained in Italy and was a former assistant to Michelangelo. The need to decorate the newly built Escorial with frescoes and paintings resulted in the commissioning of history paintings that focussed on Habsburg military victories and in the acquisition of large numbers of religious works. However, Philip II's Catholicism was so entrenched that he rejected artists whose work did not comply with the artistic guidelines set down by the Council of Trent (154563) - such as Federico Zuccaro, who after being summoned to Madrid failed to please Philip II. Giovanni Battista Castello (Il Bergamasco) and Luca Cambiaso were also lured to Spain to work on the Escorial, with both eventually being appointed Court Painter. At his death, all of Philip’s royal residences had been enriched architecturally and decoratively and his art collection was both enormous and diverse, numbering more than 1500 paintings.