Antonio González Ruiz, Portrait of the Cardinal Infante Don Luis Antonio de Borbón, 1742

Young man wearing elaborate red robes stands amid ornate furniture and columns

Antonio González Ruiz

(Corella, Spain, 1712–1785, Madrid, Spain)

Portrait of the Cardinal Infante Don Luis Antonio de Borbón


Oil on canvas

82 3/4 x 58 in. (210.2 x 147.3 cm)

Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Gift of Colonel C. Michael Paul and The Paul Foundation, New York, MM.70.10

Listen to Meadows Museum docent Lourdes Ruh discuss this work (3:03 minutes)

Audio Transcript

Antonio González Ruiz (1712–1785)

Portrait of the Cardinal Infante Don Luis Antonio de Borbón, 1742

by Lourdes Ruh, Meadows Museum docent

This opulent work immediately draws attention to the subject, the Infante Don Luis Antonio de Borbón. Our eyes instantly settle on the sitter, the son of Phillip V, the first member of the House of Borbón to rule Spain. In one single image, the artist communicates his status and tells us a story, the story of a young man who was raised to the cardinalate giving him the dubious honor of being the youngest-ever cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.

Painted in the Academic Neoclassical style of portraiture, this work exudes a sense of gravity and formality, displaying a keen sense of history. A stoic infante confronts the viewer as he poses for the solemnity of the occasion.

The young Don Luis was afforded the most luxurious format: a full-length formal portrait filled with props. Here—the concept of an ecclesiastical portrait in all its magnificence—the young man is endowed with majesty, looking more mature than his age would suggest; he appears here at age 15.

Youthful sweetness contrasts with huge columns and tasseled drapes. The artist portrays the young sitter in all the splendor of his crimson and ermine cardinal robes, with the regalia beside him, lending an aura of wealth. He is wearing three different insignias on his chest: the middle one, the Cross of the Order of the Holy Spirit, hanging from a blue riband.

Did the artist bring out the young cardinal’s emotion? He froze the memory of a young, pale, expressionless cardinal wearing a powdered wig, who most likely was an unhappy youth destined for an ecclesiastical career since childhood.

The magnificence of the surroundings seems to dwarf the figure of the infante who stands between a red chair and a green marble tabletop with contrasting, intricate[ly] carved, golden legs. His left hand rests on a couple of books. Silver objects, an inkwell, a couple of white quills, an imposing English clock, and a few more tomes complete the impressive decoration.

The cardinal chose to abandon his ecclesiastical orders in 1754. His older brother King Charles III arranged his marriage to María Teresa de Vallabriga, a young member of the minor nobility. He was stripped of his rights to the throne, exiled from court, and, as a consolation prize, was given the title of Conde de Chinchón.