Eleanora of Austria, Queen of France (1498-1558)
Eleanora of Austria (1498-1558), sister of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, was betrothed to Francis I as part of the Peace of Cambrai following the French king’s defeat at the battle of Pavia (24 February 1525). This portrait by van Cleve was probably painted by the artist in France. The Spanish inscription on the letter in Eleanora’s hand helps with the dating of the painting, as it identifies her as the ‘most Christian Queen’, a papal title granted to her as Queen of France, thereby indicating a date after her coronation in 1531. There are many versions of this portrait, including a good example in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, but the present work is larger and of higher quality.
The artist employs shadows in the background, lending weight to the sitter’s presence and a dramatic quality to the painting. It is a state portrait of a dignified monarch, richly dressed in Spanish fashion, her gold-brocaded dress adorned with gems and pearls, and sleeves decorated with fur. She wears a priceless gold necklace of sapphires and pearls, with further pearls in her ears and hair – the epitome of elegance and wealth. It has been questioned whether a portrait of Francis I (Philadelphia Museum of Art) is a pendant to this work, especially since both are of a similar size, but the fact that the sitters face the same way makes this unlikely.
The sitter holds a letter inscribed: 'Ala xpianisima. Ymuy pode / rose sinōra la Reyna / my sinora'
Catalogue entry adapted from The Northern Renaissance. Dürer to Holbein, London 2011