This book presents a complete survey of one of the key moments in the history of the Spanish court portrait, a period spanning the years 1650 to 1680. In 1650 Velázquez was in Rome, where he depicted members of the papal court with a new freedom of approach, while the following year saw his keenly awaited return to Spain, where he returned to the conventions of the court portrait. From that point onwards and until his death in 1660, Velázquez devoted most of his efforts to satisfying a growing demand for portraits of the Spanish royal family. These images were used for both family and diplomatic purposes, given that Philip IVs children with his last wife, Mariana of Austria, were essential elements in the strategic creation of political alliances across Europe. These last ten years of Velázquezs career constitute a period with a marked and distinctive personality. His sitters were now primarily women and children rather than men, a difference that was accompanied by changes in the density of the pigment, the pictorial handwriting and the colour range, which became wider and richer. In terms of artistic achievement and social advancement, this decade marks the peak of Velázquezs career, with Las Meninas as his great masterpiece.