Anthony van Dyck

Portrait of Isabella Clara Eugenia of Spain, as a Widow, 1627

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Isabella Clara Eugenia (1566–1633) was Governor of the Spanish Netherlands, together with her husband Albert VII, Archduke of Austria. 

Her father, King Philip II of Spain, was reportedly overjoyed at her birth and declared himself to be happier on the occasion than he would have been at the birth of a son. Isabella was also the only person whom Philip permitted to help him with his work, sorting his papers and translating Italian documents into the Spanish language for him. Isabella remained close to her father until his death on 13 September 1598, and served as his primary caretaker during the last three years of his life, when he was plagued by gout and frequent illness. While Philip II is frequently characterized as having been cold and unaffectionate towards his offspring, there exist numerous letters addressed from him to his daughters which contain evidence of a deep attachment between them, each letter lovingly signed “Your good father”.

In 1599, aged 32, a rather unusual age for a royal bride, she married the Archduke Albert of Austria, the younger brother of her former fiancé Rudolf II. Shortly before Philip II died, he renounced his rights to the Netherlands in favor of his daughter Isabella and her fiancé. The couple had no issue.

The Archdukes Albert and Isabella stimulated Flemish Baroque painting as patrons of the arts. They are probably best remembered for the appointment of Peter Paul Rubens as their court painter in 1609. They likewise gave commissions to outstanding painters such as Frans Pourbus the Younger, Otto van Veen and Jan Brueghel the Elder.

Isabella Clara Eugenia’s Portraits Through the Ages · Power, Fashion & Art

“As the daughter of the Spanish king, Philip II, Isabella Clara Eugenia had been regent of the southern provinces of the Netherlands since 1598. After the death of her husband, Archduke Albert VII of Habsburg, in 1621, she ceased wearing jewellery and profane clothing, exchanging them until her death in 1633 [aged 67] for the nun’s habit of the Franciscan Order of St. Clare. Van Dyck’s portrait of Isabella as a nun follows in the tradition of her female forebears, Margaret of Austria, Maria of Hungary and Margaret of Parma. The earliest portrait of Isabella in a nun’s habit was painted by Peter Paul Rubens in 1625.” (source)