Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Portrait Gallery: Crazy Joan

No, not that one! One who was, in fact, way, way, way crazier, so much so that it's as much a part of her name as "the Great" is for Russia's Catherine: Juana la Loca, Queen of Castile and Aragon, older sister of Henry VIII's first wife (more than a tad on the neurotic side herself), and the centerpiece of one of the great power struggles of European history.

She would have been 529 today.

In this early portrait by Juan de Flandres, she looks deceptively demure, if not a little phlegmatic. Over the years, though, she found herself enmeshed in an almost ridiculously complicated series of alliances, betrayals, marriages, conspiracies, abductions, abscondings, and confrontations of epic proportions.

She was, variously, a tool of her ambitious father, Ferdinand of Aragon (of Isabella and Ferdinand fame), wife of the Burgundian prince Philip the Handsome, mother of two emperors and four queens, and characterized during her life and since as anything from just plain headstrong and wilful to mad as a hatter. She never actually wielded much power herself, and she died a prisoner of her son, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

It would seem to be a life ripe for dramatization, but aside from an obscure opera by Gian Carlo Menotti (written for Beverly Sills; "a dismal affair," per the New York Times), the major representation of her tumultuous life seems to be a 2001 Spanish film called, logically enough, Juana la Loca.

The Juana, actress Pilar López de Ayala, has a certain period charm (if no resemblance to the sulky lady above), but the real revelation of learning about this movie was stumbling upon the lucky actor called on to portray Philip the Handsome.

He lives up to the billing, no? Behold one Daniele Liotti, who from all apparent evidence has an almost upenpatelische allure.

Don't you just love history?

And very happy birthday to Loonie Jo, wherever she may be...


  1. at times your blog surprises me -- most of the times