After serving his apprenticeship in Antwerp, Rubens moved to Italy in 1600, working in Venice, Rome and Genoa, and particularly in Mantua, at the court of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga II. He keenly studied and copied masterworks of classical Greek and Roman art and the Italian Renaissance, developing his own new baroque style.
At the behest of Duke Gonzaga II, Rubens travelled to Spain on a diplomatic mission. There he encountered the powerful dynasty of the Habsburg rulers, and he regarded Charles V as the founding figure of this imperial power.
The emperor is portrayed in shining armour and wearing the Order of the Golden Fleece and the insignia of his office: crown, sceptre, sword and globe, symbolising his wide-ranging dominion. The crown is in the form of a Habsburg private crown; these were mostly mitral.