Philip IV, King of Spain, and his entourage are hunting boar in a forest clearing. The King appears on horseback just right of centre, weapon pointed at a charging boar, accompanied by his first minister and possibly his two brothers. To the far left another boar is being attacked by a pack of dogs.
Boar hunting was an expensive activity and such events were traditionally staged to mark special occasions. A large canvas enclosure – the tela real (‘royal canvas’) – would be erected and wild boar driven into it. Queen Isabella and her companions watch from their carriages.
In the foreground, a crowd enjoys the spectacle of the hunt, though many are not paying attention: a boy in white stares towards us, three noblemen chat and a man loads up a mule.
The painting was commissioned for the King’s hunting lodge, Torre de la Parada, on the outskirts of Madrid.
Philip IV, King of Spain, and his entourage are hunting boar in a forest clearing. This was an expensive activity and such events were traditionally staged to mark special occasions or state visits. A large canvas fence or enclosure – the tela real (‘royal canvas’) – would be erected and wild boar driven into it, so that the King could demonstrate his agility in fending them off.
The enclosure fills the centre of the painting and, although our viewpoint is high, we are intended to identify with the spectators on the outside – a boy dressed in white looks out at us. In the arena Philip IV appears on horseback, just right of centre, weapon pointed at a charging boar. He’s accompanied by his first minister, the Count-Duke of Olivares (to his left), and possibly his two brothers, Carlos and Ferdinand, on either side. They are all armed with U-shaped forks called horquillas; a stack of them can be seen leaning against a tree. Over to the left of the arena a boar is being attacked by a pack of dogs. Outside it, three horsemen ride across the sweeping hillside; this is tricky terrain, and they‘d need skill to find boar and manoeuvre them into the valley below.
Philip’s wife, Queen Isabella of Bourbon, and her companions watch from the safety of their carriages, lined up at the edge of the arena. Isabella is probably the lady we can see in the rightmost carriage and the grey-haired man riding a white horse next to her could be Juan Mateos, Master of the Hunt.
In the foreground, a crowd enjoys the spectacle of the hunt, although many are not paying attention: a young man drinks deeply from a jug, three noblemen stand chatting and, on the right, a man is loading up a mule. Velázquez gives prominence to these secondary figures and not to the King, or the main action. He used the same approach in some of his early pictures in Seville, such as his Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of with Martha and Mary.
The back of the picture is inscribed ’Pardo', perhaps suggesting that it was painted for El Pardo, Philip IV’s palace near Madrid, or it might refer to the location of the hunt. In the early eighteenth century the painting hung alongside three other works of equal size by Pieter Snayers, also depicting court hunts (now lost), in the Torre de la Parada, Philip IV’s hunting lodge at El Pardo, for which the paintings were most likely commissioned.
Probably painted in the mid-1630s, it’s the largest of Velázquez’s few landscapes, measuring nearly two metres high and three metres wide. Our collection has several pictures painted by Velázquez for the King, including his bust-length portrait of Philip IV of Spain and full-length image of Philip IV of Spain in Brown and Silver.
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