Cardinal Juan Everardo Nithard, 1674 – Alonso del Arco (1635-1704)

Born to an Austrian Catholic family, Juan Everardo Nithard (Falkenstein, 1607-Rome, 1681)became a Jesuit. His solid grounding in theology led Emperor Ferdinand III to appoint him confessor to his children, Leopold and Mariana, and when the latter married Philip IV, he accompanied her to Madrid in the same role. Widowed, Mariana became reagent for her son, Charles, until he came of age, and during that period, she also sought Nithard´s support in government matters. The fact that he was a foreigner, the adoption of certain unpopular measures, and his failure in the peace accords of Aachen and Lisbon provoked clashes with the people of Madrid and with many members of the nobility. Juan José de Austria took advantage of these circumstances to demand his expulsion and the queen was forced to accede. Thus, Father Nithard left Madrid on February 27, 1669 and moved to Rome, where he was appointed cardinal by Pope Clement X.

This portrait dated 1674 obeys longstanding tradition, with the model sitting before a table covered with a large crimson cloth bearing a coat of arms surrounded by cardinals´ symbols. He holds a pen in one hand and looks up at the viewer as if he had been interrupted while writing in a notebook resting on a stand. This may be an allusion to the unpublished Memoirs that Nithard wrote while in Rome to justify his political acts. In the background to the right, the room opens onto a terrace with a landscape. The left is occupied by a bookshelf with volumes that denote his knowledge of theology. An Immaculate Conception hangs above, with a representation of that subject found only in another unpublished and signed version at the Niño Jesús Hospital in Madrid. A large curtain closes off the upper right area, and below, a child angel holds a large cartouche with a long inscription that informs us of the model´s identity.

Apparently, the artist originally planned to have two other angels holding the heavy curtain and visible beneath it, although it is also possible that he used a canvas that had already been prepared for a different composition. The light, colorist brushstrokes are typical of late 17th-century paintings from Madrid, and here they are manifest in their insistent use of crimson with varying degrees of intensity. The execution suffers from a rather soft drawing and treatment of volumes, and is most interesting for its depiction of the cardinal´s face—drawn from an earlier portrait or engraving—which reflects the ascetic character brought out by his biographers. This portrait can be related to another of similar dimensions at the Museo del Prado (P7211), which is also dated 1674 and can be attributed to Alonso del Arco (ca. 1635-1704). It depicts Doña Ana Félix de Guzmán, who founded the Jesuit novitiate in Madrid. It therefore seems likely that, like the present portrait of Father Nithard, it too came from that institution, as she was its founder and he was an illustrious Jesuit.