Philip II in Art

Philip II also made politically savvy decisions through his carefully controlled image. He commissioned a great deal of art, especially portraiture, during his reign; through this artwork, he presented an image of himself and his family that served him as king. The first of these images was painted before he even came into power, and was discussed in the previous section: Titian’s Philip II in Armor.


Philip used this painting to convey his power and strength as a future king, though he was only sixteen years old at the time that it was painted. It would be another eleven years before he inherited most of his father’s lands, but Philip had grown up attempting to please his father, and struggled to appear ready to rule.[2]

After Philip had come to power, he commissioned a portrait from one of his court artists and renowned portrait painter, Sofonisba Anguissola. In 1565, she painted Philip II of Spain.


In this painting, Philip is portrayed as a somber, religious monarch. He is wearing all black, and holding a rosary, indicating his religious piety. Peter Pierson wrote that he “placed the defense of religion first” in his imperative goals of kingship.[4] This portrait would have been used by Philip to demonstrate to the rest of Europe that he intended to rule as an intensely religious ruler, and as a Catholic monarch. He would not tolerate Lutheranism in his kingdom, especially in the Spanish Netherlands where it had begun to spread throughout the late 1500s.[5]

Philip also used portraits of his wives to reinforce his Spanish authority. Though he did not do so with Maria of Portugal or Mary Tudor of England, he brought both Isabella of Valois and Anna of Austria to Spain, and had them painted as traditional Spanish queens.


Philip’s third wife, Isabella of Valois, was the daughter of the French king; Philip used this match very strategically to bring a brief peace to the ongoing conflict between Spain and France.[7] By having Isabella painted as a very Spanish queen, Philip was solidifying the connection between Spain and France.


In this image, Anna of Austria is also presented as a very Spanish and traditional queen, though she was in fact very young and his neice. She came to Spain in 1570, with the express purpose of solidifying Philip’s connections to his Habsburg relatives in Austria and to bear him a male heir.[9] Painting Anna as a Spanish queen helped Philip to achieve these goals, as Anna bore him four sons who were legitimate heirs for the Spanish throne.

[1] Titian, 1548, Philip II in Armor, JPEG file, ARTstor,

[2] Pierson, Philip II of Spain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 30.

[3] Sofinisba Anguissola, 1565, Philip II of Spain, ARTstor, JPG file, .

[4] Pierson, Philip II of Spain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 44.

[5] John Lynch, Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), 387.

[6] Alonso Sanchez Coello, 1560, Isabella of Valois, JPEG file, ARTstor,

[7] John Lynch, Spain 1516-1598: From Nation State to World Empire (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1992), 262.

[8] Sofonisba Anguissola, 1573, Queen Anna of Austria, JPEG file, ARTstor,

[9] Pierson, Philip II of Spain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), 57.

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