Alonso del Arco, Portrait of Cardinal Juan Everardo Nithard, oil on canvas, 249 x 187 cm., 1674, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid. (Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons).

Juan Everardo Nithard (1607-1681) commissioned this portrait in 1674, two years after he was made a cardinal by Pope Clement X. Nithard appears inside a lavish room, seated under a baroque curtain that opens to a cortile overlooking a garden. Sitting in a red armchair, the cardinal holds a pen in one hand and looks toward the viewer, as if he has been interrupted mid-scribe. It seems as though he is about to write on this notebook, which is currently blank. This may allude to the unpublished memoirs—twenty-one volumes in total—that Nithard wrote while in Rome to justify some of his controversial political acts which included the signing of the disadvantageous Treaty of Lisbon (1668) that prompted Juan José of Austria to dismiss him from the Madrid court and send him to Rome. The elegant table is covered by a crimson cloth bearing a coat of arms with cardinals’ symbols and upon which the family shield has been painted. On top are three books: one by Saint Thomas Aquinas, another by Lirillus, and a third one with a spine that is obscured. The left is occupied by a bookshelf with volumes that denote the cardinal’s knowledge of theology. Above the shelf is a painting of the Immaculate Conception, one of the iconographic subjects that Alonso del Arco painted most frequently, while beside the cardinal is a putto who bears a large cartouche with a long inscription that informs us of Nithard’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 work is housed at the headquarters of the State Council of Madrid, Spain and belongs to the collection of the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid.