Diego Velázquez

Velazquez

Was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

In 1622, Velázquez departs for Madrid, where he gets observed by painting the portrait of poet Luis de Góngora y Argote. Minister Olivarez, a native of Andalusia, called the young Velázquez to the royal court to paint a portrait of chaplain Don Juan de Fonseca. The portrait is very quickly realized and sent to the royal palace of “Alcazar”. Impressed by the artist’s creation, King Philip IV asked him to paint a portrait of himself (now lost) that Velázquez ends on 30 August 1623. This painting marked the beginning of a life connection between the painter and the sovereign.

On 6 October 1623, the young Velázquez is named as “court painter” and lives together with his family in Madrid, at the Alcazar palace. From August 1628 to April 1629, in Madrid came the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, who painted the portraits of the royal family. Together they viewed the entire collection of the “Escorial” palace, admired the works of Tiziano and discussed about Italian painting. These discussions awaken in Velázquez the desire to know Italian.

In 1629, the king allows the painter to leave and Velázquez leaves Madrid in July. He travelled with General Spinola, the newly appointed commander of the Spanish troops in Italy. By late August, Velázquez arrived in Genoa, from there he went to Milan, then to Venice and Rome. The artist remained for a year in the Eternal City. Before returning to Spain, Velázquez visited Naples to paint a portrait of the Spanish King’s sister, the Infanta Maria, married to the future emperor Ferdinand III.

After his return from Italy in January 1631, the painter immediately takes up his position at the royal court. He responded to numerous requests for the execution of portraits and paintings of religious subjects. Good part of the year 1635, he dedicated to the painting entitled “The Surrender of Breda”. The painting represents the moment when Justin Nassau, governor of the Dutch city of Breda surrenders his city keys to General Ambrogio Spinola, commander of the victorious Spanish armies. The scene was meant to present the Spanish ideal of chivalrous nobility towards the beaten opponent. The painting is realized in the natural light of the day and highlights the specific green and blue tones of the Dutch landscape. The painting is realized to decorate the great hall of the new palace “Buen Retiro”.

It is the period in which Velázquez is part of the King’s closest circles. From written sources we know that the artist was the author of several nudes, but of them only “Venus Rokeby” was kept. In the Spanish paintings of the 17th century and 18th century, the female nudes were a rarity. The Inquisition did not allow such a theme in paintings. Velázquez’s creation reminds of Tiziano’s nudes (“Venus of Urbino”), but the Spanish artist creates a personal vision of the topic. The slender body, but also amazingly modeled of the goddess is viewed from the rear. The reflection of her image in the silver mirror is unclear. We feel that Venus doesn’t admire her own beauty, but rather of the one who looks at her.

Old Woman poaching eggs and Venus Rokeby
Old Woman poaching eggs and Venus Rokeby

 

Between 1651 and 1660, Velázquez continued his career at the royal court, while creating new masterpieces. His painting titled “Las Meninas”, also known as “Lord of honor” or “Family of Philip IV”, is one of the most illustrious creations in the history of universal painting. The painter portrays himself here with a brush and palette in his hand. The painting fascinates through its realistic painting and at the same time through its discrete court life, through authenticity of expression, precise capturing of gestures and looks and through the masterful scene appearance.

The importance of Velázquez’s art even today is evident, considering the respect with which 20th century painters regarded his work. Pablo Picasso presented the most durable homages to Velázquez in 1957, when he recreated “Las Meninas” in 58 variations, in his characteristically cubist form. Although Picasso was concerned that his reinterpretations of Velázquez’s painting would be seen merely as copies rather than unique representations, the enormous works, including the largest he had produced since “Guernica” in 1937, obtained a position of importance in the canon of Spanish art. Picasso retained the general form and positioning of the original in the context of its avant-garde cubist style.

Las Meninas and Portrait of Pope Innocent X
Las Meninas and Portrait of Pope Innocent X

 

Salvador Dalí, as with Picasso in anticipation of the tercentennial of Velázquez’s death, created in 1958 a work entitled “Velázquez Painting the Infanta Margarita With the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory”. The color scheme shows Dalí’s serious tribute to Velázquez. The work also functioned, as in Picasso’s case, as a vehicle for the presentation of newer theories in art and thought, nuclear mysticism, in Dalí’s case.

The Anglo-Irish painter, Francis Bacon found Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X to be one of the greatest portraits ever made. He created several expressionist variations of this piece in the 1950’s. However, Bacon’s paintings presented a more gruesome image of the pope, who had now been dead for centuries. One such famous variation, entitled “Figure with Meat” from 1954, shows the pope between two halves of a bisected cow.

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