Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares by Diego Velázquez
Don Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke of Olivares and Duke of Sanlucar la Mayor, was born on January 6, 1587, in Rome, and died on July 22, 1645, in the northern Spanish town of Toro. He was Philip IV's prime minister from the king's ascension to the throne in 1621 until 1643. A favorite of the king, among his numerous duties he was entrusted with the command of the Spanish cavalry. Spain's siege of the plaza of Fuenterrabia in the autumn of 1638, a victory due in large measure to the count-duke's tactical skill, is depicted in the background of this painting.
The lovely equestrian portrait by Velázquez - believed by most art historians to be painted perhaps in celebration of a victory over the French at the border town of Fuenterrabia in 1638. In full armor and holding a baton, Count-Duke of Olivares is shown as a victorious commander. His horse holds a dressage position known as a levade. An engraving of Velázquez's painting was later made by Francisco Goya.
The plasticity of form of the equestrian group lends it an especially sculptural quality. With a remarkable skill, horse and rider alike seem almost modeled "in the round," an effect that makes the landscape appear that much lower down and farther away.