Name: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez Birth: 1599 (Seville, Spain) Death: 6 August 1660 (Madrid, Spain) Nationality: Spanish Movements: Baroque Most Prominent Works: ○ Old Woman Frying Eggs (1618), ○ Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1620-1621), ○ The Triumph of Bacchus (1628), ○ Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan (1629), ○ Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), ○ Las Meninas, (1656). Mediums: Painting
Diego Velázquez was one of the most important Spanish artists during the Spanish Golden Age, and a star in King Philip IV of Spain’s court. He defied the Baroque conventions of portraiture of the time, and developed his unique style using a bold and expressive brushwork. His technique became essential for the development of Realism and Impressionism in the 19th century, and greatly inspired artists in the following century, including Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon.
During the seventeenth century, in Spain, a young artist namedVelázquez studied painting and worked professionally in Seville, before moving to Madrid where he served King Philip IV, until his death. He was a court painter, notable for his realistic and naturalistic depictions of life. Achieving great notoriety and fame throughout his life, he executed many royal portraits of extreme cultural significance, achieving splendour with Las Meninas (1656). Because of his unique technical skills, he has come to be known as the “the painter’s painter”, an expression first coined by Manet (1832-1883). Known for extraordinary life-like quality and realistic and naturalistic techniques, the immediacy and expressive quality of his brushwork were greatly inspiring to the 19th century movements of Realism and Impressionism, and very admired by 20th century painters.
Velázquez lived in an era where his unusual take on portraiture brought him attention, and the great patronage of King Philip IV of Spain (1606-1665). During this time, the King sponsored many Spanish artists, something that greatly propelled the Spanish Baroque style. In a time when the Baroque style ruled all over Europe, Velázquez’s works even attracted the eye of Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) upon his visits to the Spanish court.
Baroque: This style covered all artistic realms, from painting, sculpture and architecture, to music, dance and literature, thriving between the 17th century and the late 18th century, all over Europe. However, this style prevailed in the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain), all the way to the first decade of the 19th century. In general, the Baroque style is mostly characterised by the use of high contrasts, motion, extravagant and intricate details, saturated colours, and was mostly defined by its attempt to achieve a great sense of awe.
The Laughing Cavalier (1624) by Frans Hals
Queen Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson (1633) by Anthony van Dyck
Philip IV of Spain: Reigning in Spain between 1621 and 1665 (until his death) – and also Portugal between 1621 and 1640 -, he led Spain to great success, both politically and artistic wise. During his years of sovereignty, he was able to expand Spanish territory to a total area around 12.2 million square kilometers. He became the patron of many artists like Eugenio Caxés (1577-1642), Vincenzo Carducci (1585-1638), Gonzales Coques (1614/18-1684), Angelo Nardi (1584-1664) and especially Velázquez – who he had summoned on purpose for him to paint his portrait in the artist’s early career. There was a really good friendship between the two, sharing interests other than art, such as dogs and horses. The King’s support proved crucial in the development of the Spanish style, and he is also a key figure in Velázquez’s success. As an art aficionado, King Philip collected over 4,000 artworks from all corners of Europe during his life.
Portrait of Philip IV in Armour (c. 1626-1628)
Spanish Golden Age/Siglo de Oro: Between the end of the 15th century and the end of the 17th century, Spain saw a prosperous period of political rise and artistic development. The great Spanish patronage saw its first contribution with King Philip II (1556-1598). During this time El Greco was the leading artist in Spain and a great influencer abroad as well, deeply shaping the Spanish style. The Spanish tradition of artistic creation in the court was continued by many artists, and achieved its peak with Velázquez, who was supported by King Philip IV. The creativity did not stop there, and was transposed to literature and music, with works such as Miguel Cervantes’s (1547-1616) Don Quixote de La Mancha (1605) and the music created by Luis de Milán (1500-1561), Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599) and Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) – a few of the leading musicians whose styles resulted in a music revolution during the Baroque period.
St Louis, King of France (c. 1615-1630) Workshop of El Greco
Velázquez wasn’t a shy or reclusive artist, but a strong personality on a quest, from a very young age for fame, glory, and power. He was always greatly devoted to becoming the best painter in Spain, being part of the royal household, and writing his name in history. The only court painter to get a paycheck, Velázquez negotiated his terms firmly. He valued prestige over perfection in his art; and always claimed to prefer to be “ the first painter of common things than second in higher art.”He wasn’t known for following the rules; he did nude paintings and used live models, a practise forbidden during the Spanish Inquisition.
Diego Velázquez was born in Seville, in 1599, to a father of Juish Portuguese descendancy, and a Spanish mother, who is believed to have been aristocratic, having passed down the name Velázquez to her son as a way of continuation of the family name (a somewhat common tradition in Spain). Educated from a young age to be a Christian devout, and intended for a profession, he was taught philosophy and languages. Showing an aptitude for the arts, he began studying with Francisco de Herrera (1576-1656), for a year, concluding his technical studies there at the age of twelve. He then began to serve as an apprentice to the undistinguished painter Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644), where he remained for five years. At the age of 18, he was accepted into the Painter’s Guild of St. Luke in 1617, and a year later, in 1618, he married Juana Pacheco (1602-1660) the daughter of his teacher, and had two daughters. During the early twenties, Velázquez established himself as a painter in Seville. In 1622, he went to Madrid to paint the portrait of poet Luis de Gongora y Argote (1561-1627). Later in the same year, when the court painter died, he was called back to the court, painting a portrait of King Philip IV (1605-1665) the following year, which he completed in one day. To much of the King and the court’s satisfaction, the portrait was very successful and Velàzquez was commanded to move his family to Madrid, and ordered to become the court painter. At this point, he secured a monthly salary, besides accommodation and payment for the pictures he might paint.
Christ Served by Angels (c. 1615) by Francisco Pacheco
Sybil (Portrait of Juana Pacheco) (c. 1631) by Velázquez
Portrait of Philip IV of Spain (c. 1623-1624) – copy of the 1623 original in Museo del Prado
In 1628, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) spent six months at court in Madrid on a diplomatic mission; during this time, they talked and worked together, and developed a friendship. It was Rubens that compelled Velázquez to visit Italy, what he believed to be the birthplace of art. In 1629, he went to live in italy for a year and a half, a trip sponsored by the King. Returning to Madrid, he painted various works for the court, including various portraits for the Minister Olivares (1587-1645), his constant and loyal patron. Velázquez accompanied Philip in his various journeys, including one to Aragon in 1642 and 1644. During this time, he also painted numerous portraits for the court, of all the royal family. Velázquez went on his second trip to Italy, commanded by the King, buying paintings of Titian (1490-1576) and Tintoretto (1518-1594), and numerous works of sculpture for the establishment of an Academia in Madrid. He then went to Rome, where he was received with gold medals from the Pope Innocent X (1574-1655), and where he painted his portrait with a loose mature manner of painting, characteristic of his later stage, which was received with great acclaim and an amazement of all Rome considering it close to a miracle. Upon returning to Madrid, he painted some of his most notorious late works. He died on August 6, 1660.
Equestrian Portrait of the Duke of Lerma (1603) by Peter Paul Rubens
Although the beginning of his career was marked by the common practise of painters, at the time, in Spain, (painting either religious or historical narratives or portraits for wealthy families), Velázquez liked painting everyday scenes of ordinary people in a mundane action such as a domestic task. Although sometimes criticized for it, Old Woman Cooking Eggs (c. 1618) (in the original Spanish – Vieja Friendo Huevos) became one of his most iconic works, for its realistic approach. Kitchen scenes, or bodegones (which literally means taverns) was one of his areas of specialization. In this early stage, He didn’t follow his teacher’s method for long, abandoning Pacheco’s approach and painting directly from life instead. The Supper at Emmaus (1622) is an example of one of his first studies from life, where Velázquez, deeply influenced by Caravaggio (1571-1610), uses somber colors, a lit scene with dramatic expressions. During his mature period, Velázquez paints one of his most iconic and greatest of his religious paintings, the Cristo Crucificado (1632), which depicts Christ immediately after his death. Other works that characterize his mature period include: Lady from Court (1635), Las Lanzas o La Rendición de Breda (1634-1635), Portrait of Pablo de Valladolid (c. 1635) and La Lección de Equitación del Príncipe Baltasar Carlos (1636).His last phase, of which the Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c. 1650) is considered to be a great example, is characterized by a more loose and bolder approach of brushwork. During his time, the term, ‘the manera abreviada’ (meaning abbreviated manner) was coined to describe his synthesized depictions. Although the portrait is rough, it was well received (including by the Pope). This late method is also clear in the work of Juan de Pareja (c. 1650), painted in the same year. After his return from Rome, Velázquez produced various works that epitomize all of his life’s studies, considered some of his finest examples. These include: Las hilanderas or The Spinners or The Fable of Arachne (c. 1657) – a work which used light and vibrant colors, describing a complex narrative scene. Paintings of the Royal children, including Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (c. 1659). Las Meninas (1656) is also of this time, an iconic painting depicting the little infanta (1651-1673) surrounded by members of the court, himself painting, and the King and Queen shown in the mirror in the background.
Velázquez was a notorious portrait painter, and he was known for his realistic and formal depictions of his sitters. While at court, he painted over forty portraits of King Philip alone throughout his life, capturing the King in different scenarios and circumstances. A good example can be found in the work Philip IV in Fraga (1644) which depicts the King in elaborate clothing posing with his sword. He also depicted other members of the royal family, including Philip’s first wife, Isabella of Bourbon (1602-1644), and her children. Velázquez also painted several dwarfs and buffoons. Of reference is also his Self-Portrait (c. 1640) and his later memorable self-depiction in Las Meninas (1656).The Portrait of Juan de Pareja (c. 1650), one of his most notorious portraits, depicts Velázquez’s slave and/or artistic assistant (aiding him in his artistic productions such as paint preparation). The portrait was painted in Rome, showcased to the Italian public in the Pantheon, and was painted as a warmup for the portrait of the Pope. Curiously, Pereja was freed four years after this portrait, and became a painter too. Most of his portraits show a transversal royalness, in paintings where figures appear in a very rigid posture. However, the Portrait of Innocent X (c. 1650) is one of the few cases that shows the character in a much more relaxed pose.
Besides his numerous portraits, Velázquez also painted various narrative scenes, including religious, mythological and historical.The painting, El Triunfo de Baco o Los Borrachos (1628-29), is an example of Velázquez mythological depictions. It is a depiction of Bacchus, the god of wine, who temporarily releases humanity of their problems – an allegory for the liberation of daily life. Although his narratives usually have a complex composition – as can be clearly seen in Las Lanzas o La Rendición de Breda (1634-35) -, in the painting Christ Crucified (c. 1632), a large work which today is at the Prado, Velázquez chooses a more simplified composition, setting Christ against an all black background. In Las Meninas (1656), one of his later works, Velázquez combines portraiture with narrative, depicting the scene in his spacious studio in the Royal Alcazar in Madrid, showing the five-year-old Infanta Margarita, with her ladies in waiting, Velázquez standing behind a large canvas, and the royal couple emerging reflected in a mirror on the back wall. The complex scene is a tribute to Velázquez’s preference of capturing everyday life scenes, in a relaxed and realistic manner, as can be seen in his numerous early works.
Although Velázquez worked vigorously to become the greatest painter in Spain, he viewed it as a way to achieve prestige and power. He is known to have claimed: “I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art” – sustaining this materialistic and practical approach to art and aesthetics. Velázquez aimed to create his own individual style of painting, and to bring portraiture to greater heights in a very distinct manner (apart from the rest of European courts). He made this possible by his realistic approach to his figures and to the narrative of his composition.
Las Meninas (1656)
Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress (c. 1659)
Having only created a maximum of 120 works, Velázquez’s works have many characteristics in common, granting him the title of a ‘master realist’ and a master of life-like qualities. Largely departing from the Baroque style of painting, Velázquez’s work differentiates him from all the artists of his time. Withstanding external influences, he created his own style and his own principles of art, searching for better ways, to better depict reality seizing the essential aspects of each subject. Rejecting the usual formalities of portraiture at the time, he followed a more relaxed approach. Painting with naturalism, direct precision, and accurate realism, Velázquez’s work was profoundly realistic, innovating in technique and composition, in order to better depict the way he saw the world. Bringing about the same tendencies as can be found in the works of Titian (1490-1576), Antonio Moro (1517-1577), and Alonso Sánchez Coello (1532-1582). He had a fascination with the qualities of light, and the effects of darkness and light to depict reality. Forms were defined by values and hues, and by the contrast between the shadows and the light – his resource to chiaroscuro and tenebrism (as had been established by Caravaggio). In terms of color, he used a muted color palette, using mostly earth colors, and tones of blacks, umbers, whites, and ochres. His pigments were azurite, smalt, vermilion, red lake, lead-tin-yellow and ochres, a common palette for the time. He used a very limited palette, derived from the influence of Caravaggio (1571-1610)and Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), where he acquired the potentialities of an extremely limited palette. As a synthesis, it is his realistic naturalism that best characterizes Velázquez’s work; achieved by a dominance of the hierarchies of values and a great control of color. Although he never signed his works, it is possible to identify each date according to his looseness of style.
Detail of Margarita in Las Meninas (1656)
Techniques:One of his fundamental principles is the use of compositional grid techniques, that drew the eye all across the canvas, creating variety, movement, and dynamism. Considered a brilliant master of composition, he created various interlocking diagonals, and multiple focal points scattered throughout, in order to engage the viewer.He would also combine both loose and more ‘tight’ brushstrokes, creating a variety of atmosphere and perspective. This great variety of brushstrokes is a fundamental technique that he applied in many of his works, especially growing more loose towards the background. Oftentimes, he applied a one point perspective to control space as well. In his early works, he used a red-brown imprimatura (first layer of paint across the canvas) – it was during his first trip to Italy that he started using lighter grounds of grey for his imprimatura, which allowed for greater luminosity. He is also considered to be a master of chiaroscuro, which he learnt from studying Caravaggio’s works in Rome, applying the dramatic contrast of light and dark in his paintings in order to enhance the atmospheric effect of his compositions.
Most of his works were painted in his studio, directly from life; this direct method, creating corrections directly on the canvas, didn’t use sketches as the first stage, starting to paint directly with the oils directly on the canvas. Some preparatory drawings were found, but these are rare. X-ray studies of most of the paintings show corrections as he developed the work. Velázquez was however, a firm believer in studying significant works; he is known to have studied numerous works in his visits to Rome and Venice, such as Tintoretto’s (1518-1594) Crucifixion (1565) and Michelangelo (1475-1564) and Raphael (1483-1520) works that were in the Vatican, creating sketches of The Last Judgement (1536-1541) and School of Athens (1509-1511).
Drawing for Portrait of Cardinal Borja (1643-1645) | Portrait of Cardinal Gaspar de Borja (c. 1643) Workshop of Velázquez
Velázquez’s work was profoundly influenced by the Dutch painter Antonio Moro (517-1577), who had painted Philip II, and established a great influence on all the Spanish school. His studio in Seville is known to have been a centre for intellectual and artistic debate, discussing the works of master artists that paved the way before him, such as Michelangelo (1475-1564), Raphael (1483-1520), Titian (1490-1576), and Caravaggio (1571-1610) and general theories of art. A firm admirer of Rubens (1577-1640), Velázquez was greatly influenced by many of his works. He was also greatly influenced by the naturalism of Caravaggio, especially his use of chiaroscuro, narrative and mythological depictions, and the use of a limited color palette. Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), also greatly influenced his use of a limited palette. He studied the works at the Vatican, on his first trip to Rome, including the creations of Raphael and Michelangelo. Staying in Rome for about a year, he copied various master paintings, perfecting his skill and this classical approach to form.
King PhilipII of Spain (1560) by Antonio Moro
Narcissus (1594-1596) by Caravaggio
Dusk (1524-1534) by Michelangelo | Mars Resting (1640) by Velázquez
Velázquez’s use of loose brushstrokes had a profound impact on Édouard Manet (1832-1883), Claude Monet (1840-1926) and all of the Impressionists. Édouard Manet in particular, is considered to be the bridge between Realism and Impressionism, and thus the artist that was most influenced by his approach. With that in mind, Velázquez can be considered to be a trail-blazer of Impressionism. It is Manet that called Velázquez the “painter of painters”, referring specially to his immediacy of brushwork. During that time, in the late nineteenth century, James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903) and John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) were greatly influenced by Velázquez as well. Rejecting the impressionistic category as a movement, they both aspired to other aesthetic principles, but found in Velázquez the immediacy of the work they strove for. Similar to them, in method, process and artistic approach, are Thomas Eakins (1844-1916) and Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), whose work also seems to be directly derived from Velázquez’s immediacy. These artists consider Velázquez as a forerunner of the modern practice or direct painting. In addition, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was greatly defined by Velázquez, who as a student studied his works at the Prado – especially fascinated by Las Meninas (1656), having created variations of it numerous times. In a similar way, also in Spanish context, Salvador Dali (1904-1989) found in Velázquez a source of inspiration, copying his moustache, and recreating some of his portraits (which were created especially for showing the inner world of the sitter), often trying to emulate the same idea in his own work. Others that have been influenced include: Francisco de Goya (1746-1828), Camille Corot (1796-1875) and Gustave Courbet (1819-1877).
Count-Duke of Olivares on Horseback (c. 1622-1627) by Velázquez | Napoleon Crossing the Alps (1800-1805) by Jacques-Louis David
Portrait of Pablo de Valladolid (c. 1635) by Velázquez | The Tragic Actor (1865-1866) by Manet
Lady from Court (1635) by Velázquez | Eleanora O’Donnell Iselin (1888) by John Singer Sargent
Las Meninas (1656) by Velázquez | The Painter’s Studio (1854-1855) by Courbet
Most of his paintings can be found at the Museo del Prado, having been given by the Royal collection. Although his work was not known outside of Spain until the nineteenth century, today he is widely considered the most influential figure in the history of Spanish portraiture and a great influence on all art, adding to the course of art history. The impact of his works resonate throughout the 19th century and beyond, even though his reputation suffered in the 18th century Spanish courts in favour of foreighn portraitist. However, by the end on the century, his reputation rose up again, when Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811), a writer, philosopher and politician, mention that “when he [Velázquez] died, the glory of Painting in Spain died with him.” He continued to influence generations and generations of artists, and turned out to be a forerunner of direct painting and a precursor of impressionism, setting things in motion for Modern Art to flourish.
Lives of the Eminent Spanish Painters and Sculptors By A. Palomino (1987)
Velázquez: Painter and Courtier By J. Brown (1986)
Velázquez By J. López-Rey (1996).
Collecting Writings on Velázquez By Jonathan Brown (2008)
Velázquez: The Technique of Genius By Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido (2003)
Velázquez By Kharibian Leah (2006)
Artist: Velázquez Title: Count-Duke of Olivares on Horseback Date: c. 1622-1627 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 313 x 239 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress Date: c. 1659 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 127 x 107 cm Location: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Artist: Velázquez Title: Las Meninas Date: 1656 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 318 x 276 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Philip IV in Armour Date: c. 1626-1628 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 57 x 44 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Pope Innocent X Date: c. 1650 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 141 x 119 cm Location: Doria Pamphilj Gallery, Rome
Artist: Velázquez Title: Drawing for portrait of Cardinal Borja Date: 1643-1645 Medium: Black pencil on clear laid paper Size: 18.8 x 11.6 cm Location: Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Mars Resting Date: 1640 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 179 x 95 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Philip IV of Spain Date: c. 1623-1624 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 200 x 102.9 cm Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Pablo de Valladolid Date: c. 1635 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 209 × 123 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Christ Crucified Date: c. 1632 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 248 x 169 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Las Lanzas o La Rendición de Breda Date: 1634-1635 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 307 x 367 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: El Triunfo de Baco o Los Borrachos Date: 1628-1629 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 165 x 225 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Vieja Friendo Huevos Date: 1618 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 100.5 × 119.5 cm Location: Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
Artist: Velázquez Title: The Fable of Arachne/Las Hilanderas Date: c. 1656 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 220 × 289 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Velázquez Title: Temptation of St. Thomas Date: 1632 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 244 x 203 cm Location: Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro, Orihuela
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Juan Pareja Date: c. 1650 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 81.3 x 69.9 cm Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Artist: Velázquez Title: Lady from Court Date: 1635 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 123.7 × 101.7 cm Location: Gemäldegalerie, Berlin
Artist: Velázquez Title: Sybil (Portrait of Juana Pacheco) Date: c. 1631 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 62 x 50 cm Location: Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid
Artist: Workshop of Velázquez Title: Portrait of Cardinal Gaspar de Borja Date: c. 1643 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 77.5 x 62.5 cm Location: Museo de Arte de Ponce, Ponce
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of Philip IV in Fraga Date: 1644 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 129.8 x 99.4 cm Location: Frick Collection, New York City
Artist: Velázquez Title: Portrait of a Man, Possibly a Self-Portrait Date: ca. 1635 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 68.6 x 55.2 cm Location: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Artist: Velázquez Title: Self-Portrait Date: c. 1645 Medium: Oil on canvas Size: 103.5 x 82.5 cm Location: Uffizi, Florence