Albert and Isabella were by far the most popular Habsburg rulers Flanders ever had. Thanks to a period of peace, The Twelve Year’s Truce from 1609 until 1621, their court in Brussels became a cultural hotspot within Europe with such painters as Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Jan Brueghel I, Denis van Alsloot, Hendrick de Clerck and many others.
Our pair of portraits must date from between 1615 and 1621. In 1615 Jan Harmensz. Muller made a pair of engravings (after a now lost pair of portraits by Rubens) which our paintings were based upon. Our almond-shapes eyes that one also sees in the engravings, but not in the pair of paintings of the National Gallery that was painted by the Rubens workshop, prove this. In 1621 Archduke Albert passed away, aged 61.
About Albert and Isabella
The Low Countries have been in Habsburg (Spanish) hands since 1482. In 1568 started the Eighty Year’s War during which Holland successfully fought for its independence of Spain, leading to the creation of the Dutch Republic.
The Archdukes Albert and Isabella jointly reigned over the so-called Habsburg Netherlands from 1598 until 1621. Due to the rapid Dutch successes this meant that they actually only reigned over Flanders, having no longer any control over Holland.
In 1598 King Philip II of Spain decided to marry his eldest and favourite daughter Isabella to her cousin, Albert, thus joining the Spanish and the Austrian branches of the Habsburg family. Indeed Albert was the son of the Austrian Emperor Maximilian II and Maria of Spain, a sister of King Philip II of Spain; so his parents had also been first cousins. Could this be the reason why Albert and Isabella never had any children (Isabella had a miscarriage in 1605)? This did have important political consequences: King Philip had given the Low Countries to the newly wed couple as a wedding gift, but in case there were no direct heirs the present would return into Spanish Habsburg hands. King Philip died just a few months after signing the transfer of the Low Countries. Albert who had arrived in Brussels already in 1596 had initially some military successes. Sadly the new King, Philip III, did not think positively about Albert, he rapidly took the military command out of Albert’s hands and gave it to Ambrogio Spinola, who was indeed successful.
In 1608 Albert and Isabella had asked in vain to Pope Paul V to elevate the Low Countries to kingdom. In 1609 started the Twelve Year Truce (1609 – 1621) between the Archdukes, Spain and Holland. This was finally a time of political and economic stability and of cultural revival in Flanders. The Archdukes tried to prolong the truce, which ended just after the death of King Philip III (31st of March 1621). Sadly both Spain and Holland were eager to go to war again. Albert died a few months later, July 13th 1621 at the age of 61. Isabella lost her position as sovereign, but the new Spanish king, Philip IV, made her Governor in his name of the Low Countries. Isabella will pass away 12 years later at the age of 67. She and her late husband had been very popular in Flanders.
About our pair of paintings
The composition of our pair of portraits goes back to lost originals by Sir Peter Paul Rubens. These larger compositions show the Archdukes in three quarter portraits, our painter has chosen for the bust format.The National Gallery in London holds a magnificent pair of these extensive compositions, painted by the Rubens workshop.
In 1615 Jan Harmensz. Muller made a pair of engravings of the now lost original pair of portraits of the Archdukes by Rubens. Their almond-shaped eyes do not appear in the pair of paintings from the National Gallery, but they do in our paintings. Therefore our paintings might have been painted after the engravings between 1615 and 1621, when Albert passed away.
Why should you buy this pair of paintings?
Because this is such a nice pair of great quality portraits with penetrating looks and marvelous lace collars.