Philip IV was a key royal during the 17th century and was King of Spain for over forty years. It was rare at that time to even live that long, let alone run a country and he was also King of Portugal for a shorter period, in which he was known as Philip III. This figure was a genuine lover of the arts and wanted to have a court with the finest painters that he could muster. He would also call upon the services of Diego Velazquez on many occasions, such was his respect for this specific painter. The many portraits which came from this close relationship included standard portraits as well as scenes outdoors with a hunting theme. This series of paintings has become a key part of this artist's oeuvre and remains celebrated today for their technical qualities as well as the historical importance of providing so many visual accounts of the King's life.
The composition found here captures a close up of the King, with a neutral background behind him. He wears some intricate armour with stripes of rust tones alternating with black. He wears a red shawl over his shoulder that is entirely for show whilst his collar is flat. His hair colour is a red colour that actually matched the armour, and his lips purse out in a deep red. His face is very white, suggesting some makeup has been added for this portrait. His features are dominated by his long nose which continues through out the artist's portraits of him, where honesty was always delivered. Although some shadows fall from the left hand side, the lighting is far less dramatic here than found in many of his other portraits. A closer look at this piece also reveals further detail across the armour itself, almost akin to embroidered patterns.
Research has shown that this is one of the first portraits of the King produced by Diego Velazquez, coming along as it did in around 1626-1628. He first started working with Philip IV in 1623. It is likely that their relationship would have been built up over time and so by this stage they would have been comfortable in each other's company. The way in which his figure is cropped down to just the bust will remind many of famous European sculpture and it was only later that Velazquez would start to experiment much more with the layout of his portraits, such as with full length depictions, or even having the setting outside. The contrasting tones of a rusty mustard against the red and black was also bolder than his later palettes, where things started to becoming more refined and subtle as the artist developed his own style and also started to learn more about his patron's tastes.