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The King’s Cross?

In response to:

Master of the Natural from the December 21, 2006 issue

To the Editors:

Who painted the Cross of the Order of Santiago on the painter’s black doublet in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656)? According to Ingrid Rowland [“Master of the Natural,” NYR, December 21, 2006], “none other than King Philip himself.” The source of this royalist fable is Antonio Palomino’s El Museo Pictórico(1715), with its cautious “algunos dicen, que Su Majestad mismo se lo pintó….” But we don’t have to believe it. That cross fleury was conjured with at least seven sweeps of the brush, every one of which betrays the panache of a master, not the incompetence of a king.

Leo Steinberg

New York City

Ingrid Rowland replies:

I refer Professor Steinberg to the National Gallery’s catalog, where Xavier Bray’s essay on “Velázquez in Britain” describes King George V’s personal interventions in Sir John Lavery’s 1913 portrait of The Royal Family at Buckingham Palace (itself modeled on Las Meninas), made in conscious emulation of Philip IV. The tradition would seem to be fit for a king.

Several readers have noted that Peter Paul Rubens’s visit to the court of Madrid occurred not in 1623 but in 1628, by which time Velázquez was already serving as court painter; and that King Charles XII married twice but was unable to reproduce. My thanks to them.

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