Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain

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The ancient Romans believed citrine, a type of quartz, offered protection against evil thoughts.


Clad in armor, Philip II wears a chain with the Order of Golden Fleece around his neck. The remarkably precise and varied cutting describes the textures of cloth, metal, skin, and hair while presenting the king’s features with striking naturalism—complete with receding hairline and prominent chin—as well as conveying his forceful character. Carved gems were luxury arts of the highest order in the Renaissance, hotly collected and used as diplomatic gifts. The original patron is not yet known, but cameos played a prominent role at the Spanish court, where the royal family often hold gems of Philip II in their portraits. The yellow quartz, rare in the 1500s, probably came from a newly opened source in South America; this object is thus both a natural marvel and a masterful portrait. One of only three known works signed by the artist (his initials appear at miniscule scale on the collar just below the knot of cloth), this stone is also likely in its original setting.
Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain

Portrait of Philip II, King of Spain


Alessandro Cesati

(Italian, bef 1538-aft 1564)
Italy, 16th century

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