Mariana of Neuburg, Portraits of a Huntress

Pieza del mes: Mayo 2024
Autora: Aoife Cosgrove

Cómo citar este artículo/How to cite this article: Aoife Cosgrove, “Mariana of Neuburg, Portraits of a Huntress”, Agenart: La agencia artística de las mujeres de la Casa de Austria, 1532-1700, 3 de mayo de 2024. Consultado: 23 de mayo de 2024. URL:

There are a number of means by which we can recognise the important role that the pastime of hunting has played in the history of the Spanish monarchy. From the existence of such private hunting retreats as the palace of El Pardo near Madrid and Valsaín in Segovia to the hunting rifles found in the Royal Armoury, there is much material evidence of the hunts enjoyed by the Spanish royal family. And indeed, this pastime was not restricted solely to the male members of the court—as was more often the case in such regions as France—but rather, the Queen of Spain often wielded her own gun, shooting game alongside her husband the king. In addition to first-hand accounts of queens taking part in the hunt, portraiture provides visual evidence of their enjoyment of this practice and their desire to be seen as dynamic and powerful huntresses. While representations of queens as hunters conveyed their genuine enjoyment of this noble pastime, such images also bore symbolic meaning. The last Habsburg Queen of Spain, Mariana of Neuburg, was one monarch who harnessed the power of the hunting portrait, having herself shown in the guise of a hunter multiple times throughout her life, both during and after her reign.

When she was selected as the second wife of King Carlos II of Spain, Mariana of Neuburg became the last hope of a dying dynasty. With Carlos’ first marriage to María Luisa of Orleans, niece of King of France Louis XIV failing to produce any children, upon her death in February of 1689 the future of the Habsburg monarchy remained in doubt. A second marriage was required in order to attempt to produce an heir to the Spanish throne. Mariana, daughter of the Duke of Neuburg, was chosen as the second woman to wed the King of Spain, with their marriage by proxy taking place in August of 1689 and the formal ceremony in May of 1690. Although this union seemed full of promise thanks to the fecundity of Mariana’s mother, who bore seventeen living children, as the years wore on and the couple remained childless, hope for the arrival of a Spanish infante dimmed. With the looming question of royal succession, portraiture played an important role in the representation of Carlos and Mariana as the legitimate source of authority in the kingdom.

A pair of portraits showing the king and queen painted by the artist John Closterman between the years 1698 and 1699 [Figure 1 and Figure 2] uses the visual lexicon of hunting to demonstrate the strength of their union, their resilience in the face of numerous health concerns, and their dominance over the kingdoms of Spain. The king and queen are shown in full length, wearing French-style hunting attire; each grasps a long hunting rifle and has a loyal dog standing to attention. Mariana’s hunting garb consists of a long jacket of red velvet, covered in golden embroidery, tied at the waist with a sash of gold fabric, and worn over a dress of gold damask featuring designs of flowers and foliage. Protruding from her sleeves are ruffs of delicate white lace, while at her neck she wears a bright red bow secured with a twisted piece of white fabric. She and her husband both sport large, powdered wigs, accessories which they had begun to wear after an illness required them to shave their heads. Mariana holds her rifle by the muzzle in her right hand with its butt resting upon the ground, while in her left she grasps a white handkerchief with lace trim.

Mariana’s portrait as a huntress drew on a number of pre-existing visual sources, adapting them to define a fresh mode of representation which future queens of Spain would go on to reinterpret in their own ways. In the same way that her portrait on horseback by Luca Giordano [Figure 3] referenced earlier depictions of such queens as Isabel of Bourbon shown mounted [Figure 4], Mariana’s portrait in hunting attire can be compared to earlier depictions of both male and female members of the royal family, such as a number of portraits of Spanish queens and infantas dressed for the hunt which have recently been sold on the art market [Figure 5]. Mariana’s attire, however, also reflects the new tastes in fashion developed towards the end of the seventeenth century, with a French print by Robert Bonnart depicting a so-called “girl of quality” wearing a very similar outfit to engage in the hunt [Figure 6]. Although Closterman’s pendant portraits showing Carlos and Mariana are likely to have left Spanish soil quite soon after their creation, this format was drawn upon by their successors to the Spanish throne Felipe V of Bourbon and María Luisa Gabriela of Savoy, who also had themselves depicted in pendant portraits in which they are dressed for the hunt [Figure 7 and Figure 8]. This choice of depiction allowed the first Bourbon monarchs to imply a sense of continuity between their nascent dynasty and that of the Habsburgs, while also showing their health and vitality through their engagement in the energetic activity of hunting.

The journey which Felipe V and María Luisa Gabriela had taken to assume the Spanish throne was not an easy one. Following the death of her husband Carlos II on 1 November 1700, Mariana of Neuburg became the “reina viuda” or widowed queen. With no heir having been produced during either of Carlos II’s marriages, a new royal line needed to be established. Although Carlos II had declared Felipe (Philippe, Duke of Anjou, who became Felipe V) as his successor to the Spanish throne, the Archduke Charles of Austria contested this and asserted his own claim, beginning the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714). Due to Mariana’s Austrian loyalties, she was banished from Spain during this time, taking up residence in the French border city of Bayonne. Although Felipe V and his queen leveraged the power of Mariana’s image to bolster their own authority during the turbulent time of war, they kept her physical person at a remove from court to avert any risk of espionage or the dividing of allegiances. During this initial period of exile, Mariana continued to commission portraits, but avoided any references to her persona as a huntress, opting instead for more sombre images which showed her as a widow.

It was not until the second marriage of Felipe V that Mariana was depicted as a hunter once more. The end of the war coincided with the death of Queen María Luisa Gabriela in February 1714, leaving Felipe V in need of a new companion. By the end of the year, he had found the right candidate in the form of Isabel Farnesio, Princess of Parma, who also happened to be Mariana’s niece through her sister Dorotea Sofia, Duchess of Parma. One of the first images of the new Queen Isabel of Spain was a print produced by Matías de Irala and Diego de Costa in 1715, which depicted her in hunting attire, surrounded by the game she had bested and objects which represented her interests and talents [Figure 9].

Figure 10. Robert Gabriel Gence, Mariana of Neuburg as a Huntress, 1715, oil on canvas, 257 x 175 cm, private collection.

It was around this same time that Mariana had two images showing herself as a huntress painted by her resident court artist in Bayonne, Robert Gabriel Gence. In one image, Mariana is shown in a landscape surrounded by her hunting hounds and their dead quarry, and accompanied by a Black attendant who can possibly be identified with a “Juanito el Negro” who was documented in her service [Figure 10]. Her choice of attire is akin to that shown in the Closterman portrait [Figure 2]; her skirts, however, are now covered in the same red velvet as her jacket, and she has added the accessory of a black tricorn hat embellished with a red bow, similar to that seen in Bonnart’s print [Figure 6]. The overall appearance of the portrait can be compared to the print depicting Queen Isabel Farnesio, which possibly served as a source of inspiration [Figure 9]. In the distance, the parklands, French-style gardens, and palace of Lissague, the queen’s summer palace in Saint-Pierre-d’Irube, form a backdrop to the hunt. The setting of the scene in this location is likely quite significant given that the painting was gifted to the same man from whom Mariana rented the palace, Salvat de Lespés de Hureaux, advisor to the King of France. This hunting scene is filled with references to real-life people, places, and things, grounding it in reality and asserting Mariana’s legitimate talents in the field.

Figure 11. Robert Gabriel Gence, Mariana of Neuburg as Diana the Huntress, c. 1715, oil on canvas, 121 x 92 cm, private collection.

Another portrait of Mariana as a huntress from around this same period is quite the opposite, using the visual language of mythology and allegory to communicate the widowed queen’s association with the hunt. In her portrait as the goddess Diana, Mariana once again places herself in the role of a huntress [Figure 11]. With a bow held in her left hand and drawing an arrow from the quiver on her back with her right, this deified version of the widowed queen meets the viewer’s gaze as her two hounds wait patiently by. Gone is the modern rifle and the fashionable French hunting attire, replaced with the weapons and garments of an idealised past. Mariana wears a dress which flutters gracefully in the breeze; it is composed of a golden tunic trimmed in a metallic border over a red skirt, with a royal blue shawl draped around her left arm. The red corset around her waist bears intricate silver embroidery and is wrapped in a piece of animal hide fastened with a brooch—a relic of a previous successful hunt. In one of the few exceptions to the classical inspiration of her costume, Mariana’s hair is arranged in the ‘Fontanges coiffure’, a hairstyle popular between the late-seventeenth century and the first decades of the eighteenth, in which one’s locks were piled on top of the head towards the front, with two small curls often framing the forehead. However, even this modern hairstyle is classicised through the insertion of a centrally placed crescent-moon headpiece, one of the common iconographic symbols of Diana, who was associated with the moon in addition to nature, hunters, and wildlife. This portrait is thought to have originally formed a pendant with another work by Gence in which he depicts Jean de Larrétéguy—Mariana’s likely paramour—in the guise of Apollo, God of the Sun and the Arts, holding a lyre. In such an arrangement, Mariana’s active role as a hunter would have formed a pleasing contrast to Larrétéguy’s more passive presentation as a musician, reversing the traditional roles of the active male and passive female.

While in all three of these images Mariana is shown in the guise of a hunter, each one approaches the theme from a different standpoint and for a different purpose, allowing her to style herself variously as a powerful queen, an active adventurer, and a noble goddess.

Selected Bibliography:

  • Sandra Antúnez López, “Isabel de Farnesio y su afición a la caza”, El Reto Histórico, posted 17 April 2019, updated 29 December 2023, accessed 5 March 2024,
  • Sandra Antúnez López, El cruce entre moda y poder: La Última Farnesio (1714-1746) (Seville: Universo de Letras, 2019).
  • Amy Freund, “Sexy Beasts: The Politics of Hunting Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century France”, Art History, 42 (2019), pp. 40-67.
  • Gloria Martínez Leiva, Mariana de Neoburgo, Última Reina de los Austrias: Vida y legado artistico (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2022).
  • Gloria Martínez Leiva, “Imagen y poder: La impronta de la Reina Mariana de Neoburgo (1667-1740) en el Retrato de corte Español”, in Beatriz Blasco Esquivias, Jonatan Jair López Muñoz and Sergio Ramiro Ramírez (eds.), Las mujeres y las artes: mecenas, artistas, emprendedoras, coleccionistas (Madrid: Abada Editores, 2021), pp. 213-30.
  • Gloria Martínez Leiva, “Art as diplomacy: John Closterman’s portraits of Carlos II of Spain and his wife Queen Maria Anna of Neuburg”, The Burlington Magazine, 160, no. 1382 (2018), pp. 380-86.
  • Rocío Martínez López, “Consequences of the dynastic crises of the seventeenth century in the matrimonial market and their influence in the European international policy. The case of Maria Anna of Neuburg”, in Roberta Anderson, Suna Suner, and Laura Oliván Santaliestra (eds.), Gender and Diplomacy: Women and Men in European embassies from the 15th to the 18th centuries (Vienna: Hollitzer Verlag, 2021), vol. 2, pp. 149-96.
  • Elena María Santiago Páez, Miguel Jacinto Meléndez: Pintor de Felipe V (Oviedo: Museo de Bellas Artes de Asturias, 1989).

Captions to works referred to in the text:

  • Figure 1. John Closterman, Carlos II as a Hunter, 1698-1699, oil on canvas, 207 x 107 cm, private collection.
  • Figure 2. John Closterman, Mariana of Neuburg as a Hunter, 1698-1699, oil on canvas, 207 x 107 cm, private collection.
  • Figure 3. Luca Giordano, Mariana of Neuburg, Queen of Spain, on Horseback, 1693-1694, oil on canvas, 81.2 x 61.4 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Inv: P000198. © Museo Nacional del Prado.
  • Figure 4. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Queen Isabel of Bourbon on Horseback, c. 1635, oil on canvas, 301 x 314 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Inv: P001179. © Museo Nacional del Prado.
  • Figure 5. Spanish Royal Workshop, Portrait of Mariana of Austria in Hunting Attire, circa 1656, oil on canvas, 206 x 108 cm, private collection.
  • Figure 6. Robert Bonnart, Fille de qualité en habit de chasse, c. 1692-1700, etching, 29 x 20 cm, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Inv: Oa 65-pet fol, f. 47.
  • Figure 7. Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, Portrait of Felipe V of Spain in Hunting Attire, 1712, oil on canvas, 103 x 83 cm, Museo Cerralbo, Madrid, Inv: VH 0471.
  • Figure 8. Miguel Jacinto Meléndez, Portrait of María Luisa Gabriela in Hunting Attire, 1712, oil on canvas, 103 x 83 cm, Museo Cerralbo, Madrid, Inv: VH 0470.
  • Figure 9. Designed by Matías de Irala and engraved by Diego de Costa, Isabel Farnesio in Hunting Attire, 1715, engraving, 31.3 x 21.5 cm, Biblioteca Nacional de España, Madrid, Inv: IH/4505/1.
  • Figure 10. Robert Gabriel Gence, Mariana of Neuburg as a Huntress, 1715, oil on canvas, 257 x 175 cm, private collection. Work in the Public Domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Figure 11. Robert Gabriel Gence, Mariana of Neuburg as Diana the Huntress, c. 1715, oil on canvas, 121 x 92 cm, private collection. Image reproduced by permission.