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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Diego Velázquez

One of Velazquez's most famous portraits.
The other day I was writing an item on an artist and listing his influences which included Goya, Velazquez, El Greco, Paul Klee, Lovis Corinth, Gustav Klimt. As always, I like to include links back to artists I've written about before in order to provide easily accessible background information if the reader is interested enough to pursue them. In doing so I went in search of Diego Velazquez, whom I was sure I'd written about long ago. Although I'd made reference to him on numerous occasions, to my surprise and Diego. In continuing, I was further dismayed when I discover I'd also never written a biographical piece on Gustav Klimt either. I never dreamt I'd skipped Klimt. I made up my mind to correct these oversights. So for today, let's go with Diego. I'll make it up to Klimt some other time when I'm feeling more Austrian.

Velazquez painted several self-portraits. The only person
he painted more often was Spain's King Philip IV.
Velazquez birthplace in Seville.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was baptized on June 6, 1599. If you like, and are feeling Spanish, you can also spell his name with only one "z" (Velasquez). I've inadvertently spel-led it both ways and no one has ever complained. He was born in Seville, (southwestern) Spain. His parents were of Portuguese descent. Influenced by many artists, Velazquez exhibited a gift for art at an early age. He was probably only eleven years old when he began to study under Francisco de Her-rera, a vigorous painter who eschewed the Italian influence of the early Seville school. Velázquez remained with him for one year. Then, still only twelve, Velázquez began to serve as an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco, an artist and teacher in Seville. Though considered to be a dull, undistinguished painter, Pacheco sometimes expressed a simple, direct realism in contradiction to the style of Raphael which he had been taught. Velázquez remained in Pacheco's school for five years, studying proportion and perspective while witnessing the literary and artistic trends swirling about Seville.

Old Woman Poaching Eggs, 1618, Diego Velazquez
Little is known of Velazquez's personal life other than by the early 1620s, his position and reputation were assured in Seville. In 1618 Velázquez married Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his teacher. They had two daughters—his only known family. The younger daughter died in infancy. During his early career, Velázquez produced some notable works and was known for his compositions of amusing genre scenes (also called bodegones), such as Old Woman Frying Eggs (above). His sacred subjects include Adoración de los Reyes of 1619, The Adoration of the Magi, in 1626, Jesus in the Home of Mary and Martha (below) from 1617, both of which begin to express his careful realism.

Jesus in the Home of Mary and Martha, 1617, Diego Velazquez
Velázquez went to Madrid in 1622, with letters of introduction to Don Juan de Fonseca, himself from Seville, who was the King's chaplain. At the request of Pacheco, Velázquez painted the portrait of the famous poet, Luis de Góngora. Velázquez painted Góngora crowned with a laurel wreath, but painted over it at some unknown later date. It is possible that Velázquez visited Toledo on his way to or from Seville, as he was a great admirer of El Greco, having composed a poem on the occasion of his death. In December 1622, Rodrigo de Villandrando, the king's favorite court painter, died. Don Juan de Fonseca conveyed to Velázquez the command to come to the court from the Count-Duke of Olivares, the powerful minister of Philip IV. He was offered 50 ducats of gold—worth about 2000 in 2005) to defray his expenses, and he was accompanied by his father-in-law. Fonseca lodged the young painter in his own home and sat for a portrait himself, which, when completed, was conveyed to the royal palace. A portrait of the king was commissioned. The first was in 1623. Completed in one day, the portrait was likely to have been no more than a head sketch, but both the king and Olivares were pleased. Olivares commanded Velázquez to move to Madrid, promising that no other painter would ever paint Philip's portrait and all other portraits of the king would be withdrawn from circulation. In the following year, 1624, Velazquez moved his family to Madrid, which became his home for the remainder of his life.

Seven of the more than forty portraits of Philip IV painted by
Besides the forty portraits of Philip by Velázquez, his works include portraits of other members of the royal family such as Philip's first wife, Elisabeth of Bourbon, and her children, especially her eldest son, Don Baltasar Carlos. Other portraits depict Cavaliers, soldiers, churchmen, and the poet Francisco de Quevedo. In 1649, Velazquez sailed from Málaga, landing at Genoa. From there he proceeded to Milan and Venice, buying paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese along the way. At Modena he was received with much favor by the duke, he painted a portrait of him.

 Forge of Vulcan, Diego Velazquez (one of my favorites).
Those works presage the advent of the painter's third and final style, a noble example of which is the great portrait of Pope Innocent X (top) now in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome. In
Rome, Velazquez was received with marked favor by the Pope, who presented him with a medal and golden chain. Velázquez took a copy of the pope's portrait (which Sir Joshua Reynolds thought was the finest picture in Rome) with him back to Spain. Several copies of it exist in different galleries, some of them possibly studies for the original or replicas painted for Philip.

Las Meninas, 1656, Diego Velazquez
One of the infantas, Margaret Theresa, the eldest daughter of the new Queen Mariana of Austria, appears to be the subject of Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour), painted in 1656, usually seen as Velázquez's magnum opus. However, in looking at the various elements of the painting, it is unclear as to who or what is the true subject. Is it the royal daughter, or perhaps the painter himself? The answer may lie in the image on the back wall, depicting the King and Queen. Is this image a mirror, in which case the King and Queen are standing where the spectator stands? Are they the subject of Velázquez's work? Or is the work simply a court painting?

"Alright, settle down, or I'll
clobber you with my crucifix."


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