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The Making of Anthonis Mor at the Lisbon Court in 1552

Updated: Oct 22, 2023

Fig. 1: Titian and workshop, Portrait of Mary of Hungary, Regent of the Netherlands, 1548, oil on canvas, 125.7 x 112 (with frame), Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, inv. no. PE 243.

Anthonis Mor’s brilliant career at the imperial Habsburg court in Brussels began in the household of his first patron, Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, a courtier close to the Emperor Charles V. In 1549 Granvelle introduced Mor to his future royal patrons, Mary of Hungary, regent of the Netherlands (fig. 1), her sister Leonor of Austria, Dowager Queen of Portugal,and France (fig. 2), and lastly, Philip II of Spain, who Mor painted in Antwerp in 1549 (fig. 3). Mor’s talents lay in his innovative portrait style, and his penetrating, psychological representations of his princely sitters.

Fig. 2: Joos van Cleve, Portrait of Leonor of Austria, Queen of France and Dowager Queen of Portugal, c. 1530-1533, oil on panel, 35. 5 x 29.5 cm, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Gemäldegalerie, inv. no GG 6079. Inscribed on letter: a la xpinisma [christianisima)] y muy poderosa sinora la Reyna my sinora (“To the Most Christian and very powerful Lady the Queen my Lady”).

In 1551, Anthonis Mor (fig. 4), was chosen to undertake a delicate mission as diplomat and portraitist to the Lisbon court, where he was sent by order of Queen Leonor and the regent Mary. Leonor, acted as an unofficial marriage broker, hoping to marry her daughter, Princess Maria of Portugal, to her nephew and godson, Philip II of Spain (fig. 5). Mor’s mission to Portugal was to paint Maria, her portrait an essential trump card needed to broker this dynastic alliance.

Fig. 3: Anthonis Mor, Portrait of Prince Philip of Spain, 1549, Bilbao, Museo de Bellas Artes, inv. no. 92/253.

The painter arrived in Lisbon in 1552, residing at the summer palace of Almeirim, near Santarém, where he executed remarkable portrayals of the Portuguese royal family, including Maria as a prospective Habsburg bride. Both queens hoped Mary of Hungary’s political influence with their brother Emperor Charles V, with Leonor’s commission of this portrait, would successfully seal this match. Shortly after Mor’s return to Brussels, Philip II’s marriage to Maria was ratified. However, Mary Tudor’s unexpected ascension to the English throne in 1553, prompted Charles V to decide against the Portuguese match in favour of one with England. Philip II was forced to renounce his betrothal to Maria of Portugal to wed Mary Tudor in the summer of 1554.

Fig. 4: Simon Frisius, Portrait Engraving of Anthonis Mor, 1610, London, The Courtauld Gallery. Inscribed: Antonius Morus, Ultrajectinus Pictor.

While in Portugal, Anthonis Mor deployed a battery of visual devices to portray this princess as the quintessential Habsburg bride. Contemporary correspondence describes Maria as intelligent, and gifted with many talents, among them excelling in music and painting. She was erudite having received a thorough humanist education in the Aula Regia at the Lisbon court, speaking Greek and Latin fluently.

Princess Maria’s mother, Queen Leonor, and immediate members of her Portuguese family, especially her half-brother Infante D. Luís, directed Anthonis Mor’s commission, asking the painter to implement political and visual strategies to with which to contextualise Maria as a paragon of beauty, intellect, and virtue - qualities required for her future role as Queen of Spain. These devices were conspicuously incorporated by Anthonis Mor in this remarkable portrait (fig. 5).

Fig. 5: Copy after Anthonis Mor (Alonso Sánchez Coello and workshop), Portrait of Infanta Maria of Portugal, Duchess of Viseu, with a Ryukyuan folding fan in her right hand, 1552 and 1560-1564, Madrid, Patrimonio Nacional, Monasterio de las Descalzas Reales, inv. PN 822.

Mor’s historical trip to Portugal proved to be a great success and helped launch his career as the Habsburg court portraitist par excellence. He thereby secured for himself a preeminent position at the Habsburg courts in Brussels, Lisbon, and Madrid.


Carla Alferes Pinto, A Infanta Dona Maria de Portugal (1521-1577): O mecenato de uma princesa renascentista (Lisbon: Fundação Oriente, 1998)

Annemarie Jordan, Retrato de Corte em Portugal. O Legado de António Moro (1552-1572) (Lisbon: Quetzal Editores, 1994).

Jordan Gschwend 2008

Annemarie Jordan Gschwend, “Antoine Trouvéon, un portraitiste de Leonor d’Autriche, récemment découvert,” Revue de l’Art, 159 (2008), pp. 11-19.

Joanna Woodall, Anthonis Mor. Art and Authority (Leiden: Brill, 2007).

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