The Infanta Ana and the Infant Christ

Pieza del mes: Marzo 2023
Tanya J. Tiffany

Cómo citar este artículo/How to cite this article: Tanya J. Tiffany, “The Infanta Ana and the Infant Christ”, Agenart: La agencia artística de las mujeres de la Casa de Austria, 1532-1700, 1 de marzo de 2023. Consultado: 23 de mayo de 2024. URL:

Inside Madrid’s Descalzas Reales hangs a portrait depicting the four-month-old infanta Ana Mauricia (1601-1666), daughter of King Philip III and Queen Margarita and herself the future Queen of France [Figure 1]. On her chest, little Ana wears a large jeweled cross (from which hangs a smaller cross), along with two reliquaries, one containing relics of the infanta’s namesake Saint Anne and the other shards of Christ’s crown of thorns. Suspended from her belt are various objects—among them an ebony fist and a gilded bell—meant to ward off ailments and the evil eye. In her right hand, Ana clutches a branch of coral: a material that protected against bodily and supernatural harm while also serving as an aid to teething. Wearing a white gown with a fashionable starched lace collar, she sits upon a crimson cushion trimmed in shimmering gold. Ana’s steady gaze, sober expression, and upright posture belie her tender age. Yet Pantoja gave her naturalistically rosy cheeks, a pudgy chin, and wisps of downy hair, and he captured her distinctive wide eyes and rosebud mouth, features evident in other portraits from her youth.

Ana was the first child born to Margarita [Figure 2] and Philip III [Figure 3], and the Descalzas picture is the first of many surviving portraits depicting the couple’s eight offspring, who also included Prince Philip, who would become King Philip IV (1605-1665), and María Ana, future Queen of Hungary and Holy Roman Empress (1606-1646). In likenesses of the children, Pantoja and his colleagues blended the secular conventions of portraiture with sacred iconography, creating images that inscribed the youngest Spanish Habsburgs in the faith and demonstrated their participation in the Pietas Austriaca, the Catholic piety upon which the dynasty based much of its self-definition. Queen Margarita commissioned a number of these images and gave them to relatives, friends, and allies, whether the nuns in Madrid’s Descalzas (who included her beloved kinswoman, Sor Margarita de la Cruz) or family members in far-off Vienna. Adhering to the iconography of this earliest portrait of Ana, Pantoja and others painted images of the queen’s subsequent children, among them María Ana and Margarita Francisca (1610-1617), wearing white and seated on red cushions [Figure 4 and Figure 5]. They sometimes also showed the children wearing the habits of religious orders. For example, Pantoja portrayed Ana, now nine months old, dressed as a Conceptionist nun [Figure 6]. Several years later, the queen charged him with painting a double portrait in which Prince Philip appears in friar’s garb, enclosed in a wheeled walker, while Ana stands at his side, holding his hand and wearing the same large cross shown in her first portrait [Figure 7]. After the death of the two month-old infanta María (1603), the queen asked Pantoja to paint seven versions of a heartbreaking portrait of the baby robed in Conceptionist garb and lying in her coffin, hands clasped in eternal prayer [Figure 8]. Pantoja also executed at least one portrait a lo divino—one showing real individuals in the guise of saintly figures—featuring a royal child. At the queen’s behest, he painted an Annunciation depicting the infanta Ana (her large eyes and tiny mouth recognizable from other likenesses) as the angel Gabriel and Queen Margarita as the Virgin Mary, an image thought to have been painted during Margarita’s pregnancy with the future Philip IV [Figure 9].

Unlike this Annunciation, the Descalzas painting of Ana on a pillow and the similar images of her siblings are not portraits a lo divino. The pictures would, however, have reinforced associations between royal children and the child Jesus, whom artists often showed seated regally on a cushion [Figure 10]. At the Spanish court, women gave ritual life to theological and political discourse comparing the advent of Christ to the birth of an heir to the throne; during the Christmastime feast of the Expectation of the Virgin, court ladies begged for divine assistance in ensuring the royal succession. Similar rituals took place in royal convents. Inside the Descalzas, nuns prayed for the queens’ pregnancies and blurred the lines between sacred and secular kingship by dressing sculptures of the infant Christ in attire suitable for Spanish princes. Like Queen Margarita, the Descalzas’s Sor Margarita procured religious habits for her youngest Habsburg relatives, and she doted upon the queen’s children, whom she described as “living images” (Imagenes viuas) of Christ himself.

The iconographic and formal resemblance of Ana’s portrait to an early seventeenth-century Christ Child with a Bird that also hangs in the Descalzas sheds further light on the close association between the Spanish infantes and the holy infant [Figure 11]. In that picture, Christ sits on a red velvet cushion and wears a white gown, in this case a diaphanous garment that reveals his naked body beneath. As in Ana’s portrait, his accoutrements include coral—a coral necklace and bracelet—and he wears the crown of thorns, a fragment of which Ana bears inside one of the reliquaries on her chest. Christ holds a goldfinch—a protector against disease as well as a symbol of resurrection—in his right hand, and an orb with a crucifix—a reference to his status as the king of heaven—in his left. Because of the painting’s similarities to images of Ana and her siblings, scholars have sometimes suggested that the Christ Child with a Bird is a portrait a lo divino representing one of the infantes. Nevertheless, the child’s nakedness contradicts this theory; the representation of his male anatomy conforms to images of the child Jesus, which frequently emphasized Christ’s virile humanity, but not to portraits of royal children, who were always shown decorously clothed. In addition, the face of the infant Jesus in the painting lacks the specificity of the individualized, if idealized portraits by Pantoja and his contemporaries at court. At the same time, Christ’s reddish-gold hair, blond lashes, and bright eyes evoke the general features of Margarita and Philip’s children, reinforcing the resemblance between the real infantes and their more perfect prototype in heaven.

The interplay between Pantoja’s portrait of the four-month-old Ana and the Christ Child with a Bird would have held particular significance inside the Descalzas, where Queen Margarita was a regular presence until her death in 1611 and where the infantes often resided under the care of Sor Margarita. For royal visitors to the convent and for the nuns within, the images would have resonated with the Habsburg’s divine mission. If Ana and her siblings were, as babies, “living images” of the newborn Christ, they were raised, as future Habsburg rulers, to cloak themselves as well as their subjects in the Christian faith, bringing aspects of the celestial court to earth.

Further reading:

  • María Cruz de Carlos Varona, Nacer en palacio: el ritual del nacimiento en la corte de los Austrias (Madrid: CEEH, Centro de Estudios Europa Hispánica, 2018).
  • María Cruz de Carlos Varona, “Reginalidad y retrato en las cortes de Felipe III y Felipe IV,” en Ánima. Pintar el rostro y el alma, catálogo de exposición, Museo de Bellas Artes de Valencia (Valencia: Ediciones Trea, 2022), 213–67.
  • Gemma Cobo Delgado, “Retratos infantiles en el reinado de Felipe III y Margarita de Austria: entre el afecto y la política,” Anuario del Departamento de Historia y Teoría del Arte 25 (2013): 23–42.
  • Anna Coreth, Pietas Austriaca, ed. by Charles W. Ingrao, trans. by William D. Bowman and Anna Maria Leitgeb (West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 2004).
  • Ana García Sanz, El Niño Jesús en el Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales de Madrid (Madrid: Patrimonio Nacional, 2010).
  • Martha K. Hoffman, Raised to Rule: Educating Royalty at the Court of the Spanish Habsburgs, 1601-1634 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2011).
  • Adam Jasienski, “Converting Portraits: Repainting as Art Making in the Early Modern Hispanic World,” The Art Bulletin 102:1 (2020): 7–30.
  • Maria Kusche, Juan Pantoja de la Cruz y sus seguidores: B. González, R. de Villandrando y A. López Polanco (Madrid: Fundación Arte Hispánico, 2007).
  • Fernando Marías, “Juan Pantoja de la Cruz: el arte cortesano de la imagen y las devociones femeninas,” in La mujer en el arte español: VIII jornadas de arte (Madrid: Centro de Estudios Históricos, C.S.I.C., 1997), 103–16.
  • Juan de Palma, Vida de la serenissima infanta Sor Margarita de la Crvz Religiosa desçalca de S. Clara (Madrid: Imprenta Real, 1636).
  • Leo Steinberg, The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion (New York: Pantheon Books, 1983).
  • Tanya J. Tiffany, “‘Little Idols’: Royal Children and the Infant Jesus in the Devotional Practice of Sor Margarita de La Cruz (1567–1633),” in The Early Modern Child in Art and History, ed. by Matthew Averett Knox (London: Taylor and Francis, 2015), 35–48.
  • Cécile Vincent-Cassy, “El retrato a lo divino: intención y realces de una forma híbrida,” e-Spania. Revue interdisciplinaire d’études hispaniques médiévales et modernes 35 (2020).

Captions to works referred to in the text:

  • Figure 1. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Infanta Ana Mauricia, 1602. Oil on canvas, 86.5 x 76.5 cm. Madrid, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. Work in the Public Domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Figure 2. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Queen Margarita of Austria, 1606. Oil on canvas, 207 x 122 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.
  • Figure 3. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, King Philip III, 1606. Oil on canvas, 204 x 122 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.
  • Figure 4. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Infanta María Ana, 1607. Oil on canvas, 82 x 64 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie.
  • Figure 5. Santiago Morán, Infanta Margarita Francisca, c. 1610. Oil on canvas, 100 x 72 cm. Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado.
  • Figure 6. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Infanta Ana in Conceptionist Garb, 1602. Oil on canvas, 81 x 71 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie. Work in the Public Domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Figure 7. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Infanta Ana and Prince Philip, 1607. Canvas, 118 x 124 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie. Work in the Public Domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Figure 8.  Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Infanta María in her Coffin, probably 1603. Oil on canvas, 95 x 100 cm. Madrid, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales. Work in the Public Domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
  • Figure 9. Juan Pantoja de la Cruz, Annunciation, c. 1605. Oil on canvas, 152 x 115 cm. Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie.
  • Figure 10. Jan Saenredam and Jacob Matham after Hendrik Goltzius, Infant Christ (Salvator Mundi) Seated on a Cushion, 1597. Engraving on paper, 19.5 x 14.5 cm. London, The British Museum. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
  • Figure 11. Unknown artist, Christ Child with a Bird, early 17th century. Oil on canvas, 62 x 50 cm. Madrid, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales.