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The Artist: Who Was Vicente López?
Born in Valencia, Spain in 1772, Vicente López made a name for himself as one of the best portrait artists of the 18th century. At the tender age of thirteen, Vicente began his formal training in painting under the tutelage of a Franciscan monk called Antonio de Villanueva at the Academy of San Carlos in Valencia. Four years later, he won a scholarship from the Academy to study in Madrid at the Academia Real de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. He would return to Valencia in 1801 to become the president of the college where he first began his studies. 1
Thus followed a successful career, beginning with a commissioned portrait of King Charles IV and his family. In 1814, the Spanish King Ferdinand VII called Vicente to his court in Madrid and appointed him as the honorary chamber painter; he succeeded the romantic painter, Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes. Vicente’s contract with the crown would be renewed several times as the Napoleonic Wars necessitated the artistic portrayal of various military leaders and of the king– with the intent of presenting the crown’s ability to remain strong during such an ordeal. 2
From here on, Vicente remained in Madrid and solidified his reputation as the premier Spanish portraitist, having painted statesmen, academics, and members of the upper class such as Marie Christine of Bourbon, Queen of Spain and Maria Francisca de la Gándara, Countess Widow of Calderón.
The Work: Who Was Maria Cristina of the Two Sicilies?
Maria Cristina was the queen consort of Spain from 1829 to 1833, otherwise known as the fourth wife to King Ferdinand VII. Quickly following the marriage, the queen consort gave birth to two daughters: Isabel and Doña María Luísa Fernanda. When the king died in 1833, his eldest was bequeathed queen of the realm, her mother acting as regent since she was only three years old. Disputes arose over Isabel’s right to the throne, and supporters of her uncle, Don Carlos sparked debate concerning whether or not King Ferdinand VII had unlawfully modified the succession law to include females in the royal line. This tension preceded the First Carlist War, which began in 1833 and ended in 1839.3
There was a rumor that the Queen Regent was responsible for her daughter’s accession; that she signed a decree following her husband’s death and knowingly altered the natural order to the throne. This cunning was substantiated by the fact that Maria Cristina married without delay when the king died. She would have several children whilst attempting to keep her marriage to ex-sergeant of the Royal Guard, Agustín Fernando Muñoz, a secret. Making the marriage public would forfeit her link to the regency, although ironically the Spanish court was well aware of their affair. When the relationship was made known to the wider public, her position was undermined and she was exiled to France where she died in 1878. 4