Diego Velázquez was a Spanish Baroque painter considered one of the greatest exponents of Spanish painting and a master of universal painting. After he moved to Seville, he developed a naturalistic style of tenebrist lighting that was influenced by Caravaggio and his followers. At the age of 24 he moved to Madrid, where he became painter to King Philip IV. Four years later he was promoted to chamber painter, an extremely prominent position among court painters. The rest of his life were spent doing this work. His works included portraits of the king and his family, as well as other paintings destined to decorate the royal mansions. His presence at the court allowed him to study the royal collection of paintings, which included works by both ancient and contemporary artists. This inspired his own style, characterized by a loose and fast brushstroke. It is in his maturity, from 1631 on, that he painted great works such as The Surrender of Breda. In his last decade, Picasso's style became more schematic and sketchy. He achieved extraordinary mastery of light. This period was launched with the Portrait of Pope Innocent X, painted on his second trip to Italy, and to it belong: Las Meninas and Las Hilanderas.
His catalog consists of about 120 or 130 works. He is recognized as a universal painter, but his recognition came late, around 1850. He reached his maximum fame around the same time as impressionist painters, for whom he was a reference. Manet was so impressed with his work that he called him “a painter’s painter” and “the greatest painter who ever lived.” The largest part of his paintings are kept in the Prado Museum.
First years in Seville
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was baptized in the San Pedro church in Seville on June 6, 1599. Bardi was born about 1599 and was probably baptized the day before his birth, which is June 5th.
His parents were Juan Rodríguez de Silva, born in Seville of Portuguese origin, and Jerónima Velázquez, also born in Seville. They got married in the same church of San Pedro on December 28, 1597. Diego, the firstborn of eight siblings, would be the eldest of eight siblings. Velázquez adopted his mother's surname according to the widespread custom in Andalusia, although towards the middle of his life he also sometimes signed "Silva Velázquez".
It has been said that the family was among the nobility of the city. Although Velázquez claimed to have noble blood, there is insufficient evidence to prove this. The father, perhaps a nobleman, was an ecclesiastical notary. He held an office that could only correspond to the lowest levels of the nobility and must have lived modestly. His maternal grandfather, Juan Velázquez Moreno, was a hosier, an occupation considered too "common" for the nobility. He was able to save enough money to invest in real estate. In 1609, the tax collector in Seville began to return the meat tax to Andrés's great-grandfather, and in 1613 it did so for his father and grandfather too. Velázquez was not required to pay the tax because he became an adult. However, this was not enough to prove his nobility: the Council of Military Orders opened a file in the 1950s to determine whether Velázquez's grandfather was noble and recognized him as such only in Portugal and Galicia.
The city of Seville, which was the richest and most populated city in Spain as well as the most cosmopolitan and open city in the entire Spanish Empire, is where the painter was formed. It was the only port in Britain that could be used to trade with America, and was also home to a large colony of Flemish and Italian merchants. Although it was an ecclesiastical seat of great importance and had great painters, it was also an important center for trade and the arts. According to Palomino, at the age of 10, he began his training in the workshop of Francisco Herrera el Viejo, a prestigious painter in 17th-century Seville, but with a very bad character. In October 1611, Rodríguez signed a document binding his son Diego to Pacheco for a six-year apprenticeship beginning in December 1610, when Rodríguez could have effectively joined Herrera's workshop.
While training in Seville with Pacheco, a painter linked to the ecclesiastical and intellectual circles of the city, Velázquez acquired his first technical training and aesthetic ideas. Apprenticeship contracts typically specified several duties, including grinding the colors, heating the glues, decanting the varnishes, stretching the canvases, and assembling frames. Artisans in the Middle Ages were obligated to give an apprentice food, house and bed, to dress and shoe him, and to teach him their craft completely and without omitting anything.
Pacheco was an important painter whose treatise on painting remained unpublished during his lifetime. As a painter he was rather limited, following the models of Raphael and Michelangelo, but it also seems he followed them in the way of depicting figures in a hard and dry manner. However, as a draftsman he made excellent pencil portraits, although he knew how to direct his pupil and to encourage rather than stifle his abilities. Pacheco is better known for his writings than for being Velázquez's teacher, and for writing an important treatise, which published posthumously in 1649 and essential to know the Spanish artistic life of the time. He admires his son-in-law's paintings of still lifes and also praises the naturalistic portraits he painted when he was young. He had great prestige among Seville's clergy and was very influential in literary circles that brought together the local nobility.
Diego Velásques de Silva was my son-in-law. He grew up by drawing from the actions of an apprentice servant, who differed little in his attitudes when he was crying or laughing. And he created many copies of the portrait with charcoal and ink, trying to make them as lifelike as possible.
There are no surviving depictions of Velazquez's student years, but there are recurring faces in his work from this period, such as the boy in Vieja friendo huevos and El aguador de Sevilla.
Justi, the first great specialist on the painter, believed that he must have transmitted to him the initial impulse that gave him his originality and uniqueness. He must have introduced El Greco to the concept of "freedom of hand", which he had not achieved until years later in Madrid, although free execution was already a known trait in his time and had previously been found in El Greco. Since similarities between the works of Caravaggio's first and second masters are general in nature, it is possible that his first master was an example in Caravaggio's search for his own artistic style. In Diego's earlier work, we find a strict drawing that does not flatter the model's imperfections: the artist is attentive to the accuracy of the model's reality and creates a more sober and balanced style than his rival, Pedro de Herrera. He continued with a totally different teacher. Pacheco was a cultured but not a very good painter, who valued orthodoxy the most. Justi concluded by comparing their paintings. He argued that while Pacheco did exert some influence on his disciple, the painter himself had little artistic influence on his disciple. He had more influence on him in theoretical aspects, both iconographic and theoretical, for example in his defense of the Crucifixion with four nails and the claim that painting was a noble and liberal art as opposed to an artisanal art.
It should be noted that Murillo was a disciple of Herrera the Elder from 1619-1626, when he was about twenty years old and had not yet examined himself as a painter, which he would only do in 1619. Jonathan Brown, who does not consider Herrera's training period, points out another possible early influence: Juan de Roelas, who was present in Seville during Velázquez's apprenticeship years. Roelas introduced in Seville the incipient naturalism of the Escorial style, different from that practiced by the young Velázquez.
Beginnings as a painter
On March 14, 1617, he passed the exam before Juan de Uceda and Francisco Pacheco, which allowed him to join the painters' guild of Seville. Throughout his career, he received a license to practice as a "master of imagery and oil painting", which gave him almost unlimited opportunity to improve his art. The only document that discusses his trade as a painter, preserved from his time in Seville, is an apprenticeship contract between Alonso Melgar and Velázquez for Melgar's son Diego to study painting.
On April 23, 1618, when he was only 19 years old, he married Juana Pacheco in Seville, who was 15 years old at the time. Two daughters were born in Seville. The first daughter, baptised on May 18, 1619, was named Francisca, and the second daughter, baptised on January 29, 1621, was named Ignacia. Because many of the Seville painters were related to one another, they formed a network of interests that facilitated the creation of works and commissions.
His still lifes with figures such as The Lunch at the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, or Old Woman frying Eggs at the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh,19 bring together his love for painting and his sense of observation.
In these early years he developed an extraordinary mastery, which shows his interest in mastering the imitation of the natural, achieving the representation of relief and qualities, through a chiaroscuro technique reminiscent of the naturalism of Caravaggio. In his youth, he showed a fascination for the imitation of nature and the representation of relief; in later years he would express interest in chiaroscuro technique reminiscent of the naturalism of Caravaggio. Velázquez's pictures of everyday objects and types, which resemble the paintings of Vincenzo Campi or objects in pittura ridicola , suggest that he may have known examples of these genres. In the early 17th century, a modest painter from Úbeda named Juan Esteban painted works of this genre.
Velázquez was able to see works that were similar in style, by El Greco, his disciple Luis Tristán and Diego de Rómulo Cincinnato, a portrait painter who was praised by Pacheco. The writers of the documents of the Saint Thomas of the Museum of Fine Arts of Orleans and the Saint Paul of National Museum of Art of Catalonia, would evidence the knowledge of the first two. A lot of Arenas' patrons were ecclesiastical, so his paintings at this time had religious themes. Later on, his paintings were used for portraits and to decorate the Seville City Hall. However, Velázquez also often depicted religious scenes in the same way as his still lifes with figures, as in Christ in the House of Martha and Mary or The Supper at Emmaus. This shows that this way of interpreting the natural allowed to get to the bottom of the characters, demonstrating early on a great capacity for portraiture. It also demonstrates an inner strength and temperament transmitted. So in Sister Jerónima de la Fuente's portrait of 1620, of which two copies of great intensity are known, she transmits this nun's energy who at the age of 70 left Seville to found a convent in the Philippines.
The Vieja friendo huevos and El aguador de Sevilla are considered masterpieces in this period. In the first picture, he demonstrates his mastery of photography by means of the use of a strong and intense light that highlights surfaces and textures. His second painting, a large earthenware jug, catches the light in its horizontal striations, and small transparent drops of water slide down its surface.
His still lifes, especially, had a great influence on Sevillian painters. And there are many copies and imitations of them.
First trip to Italy
Thus, after Rubens' departure and probably influenced by him, Velázquez requested permission from the king to travel to Italy to study after Rubens' departure. In July 1629, he was granted part of his salary for the trip and also had money to pay for several paintings. The Spanish artist Diego Velázquez traveled with a servant, and letters of recommendation for the authorities of the places he wanted to visit. This trip to Italy marked a complete change in his painting. Many artists sought to visit the center of European painting, a desire shared by Velázquez. In addition to that, Velázquez was the painter of the king of Spain, so all doors were opened to him, allowing him to contemplate works that were only available to the most privileged.
After leaving the port of Barcelona, on a ship of Genoese general Espínola, who was returning to his homeland. The ship arrived at Genoa on August 23, 1629, and without stopping it sailed to Venice on the same day. At Venice the Spanish ambassador arranged visits to the main artistic collections of various palaces. Palomino copied works by Tintoretto. As the political situation in the city was delicate, he remained there for a short time and left for Ferrara, where he would encounter Giorgione's painting, which had an effect on him that is unknown.
He was then in Cento, interested in learning about the work of Guercino, who used very white lighting (in his religious figures) and was a great landscape painter. For Julián Gállego, Guercino's work was one of the most influential pieces in helping Velázquez find his unique style. When in Rome, he spent many days copying frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael. He then moved to Villa Medici, on the outskirts of Rome, where he copied his collection of classical sculpture. He not only studied the old masters: at that time, great baroque painters such as Pietro da Cortona, Andrea Sacchi, Nicolas Poussin ,Claudio da Lorena and Gian Lorenzo Bernini were active in Rome. There is no direct evidence that Velázquez ever met with them, but there are indications that he was aware of the new developments in the Roman artistic community.
Velázquez's incorporation of Italian art into his own style can be seen in The Forge of Vulcan and The Tunic of Joseph, paintings he completed during this time. Although elements of his previous painting persist in La fragua de Vulcano, there is an important break with his Sevillian period. However, another change can be seen in the spatial treatment: like a liquid flowing into a vessel, the figures that follow one another now almost seamlessly melt into one image. Previously, I worked with layers of opaque paint that didn't really combine well to produce a consistent effect. Now, however, I'm working with lighter colors that produce better results. Because of this, contemporary artist Jusepe Martínez declared:"It was much improved in terms of perspective and architecture".
In Rome, he also painted two small landscapes in the garden of Villa Medici: The Entrance to the Grotto and The Pavilion of Cleopatra-Ariadna. The exact date of their creation is not certain. Those who argue that he could paint them during the first trip, especially López-Rey, are supported by the fact that the painter lived in Villa Medici in the summer of 1630. Although the technical studies at the Museo del Prado are not conclusive, there are reasons to believe that they support the execution around 1630. In the manner of Monet two centuries later, Pantorba wanted to capture two fleeting "impressions." The style of these paintings resembles the Roman landscapes that Corot painted in the 19th century. The fascination of these landscapes lies not so much in their subject matter as in the way they are painted. Landscape studies taken from life were a rare practice, used only by a few Dutch artists based in Rome. Although, like all of them, Claudio de Lorena made some well-known drawings in this way, Velázquez was going to use oil directly, emulating in his execution the informal technique of drawing.
He remained in Rome until the autumn of 1630, and returned to Madrid via Naples, where he painted a portrait of the Queen of Hungary. He met José de Ribera, who was at the time of his life at which he was most pictorial.
Maturity in Madrid
After his first trip to Italy, he had a formidable technique. At the age of 32, Diego Velázquez was already skilled. His training had been thorough, thanks to his travels through Italy, where he studied the masters of the Renaissance. In 1631, back in Madrid, he focused on his task as a painter of royal portraits. According to Palomino, immediately after his return to the court, he presented himself to the Count-Duke and thanked him for not having had his portrait painted by another painter in his absence. He also portrayed Prince Balthasar Charles, who was born during his stay in Rome and who he also portrayed on at least six occasions. He set up his workshop in the Alcazar and had assistants to help him. During this period, he received a court bailiff's rod in 1633, his majesty's closet assistant in 1636, valet in 1643 and superintendent of works in 1644. Despite an extensive collection of his personal documents, by Pita Andrade, this period is nevertheless poorly documented. Despite an extensive collection of his personal documents, by Pita Andrade, this period is nevertheless poorly documented.
In 1631, a young twenty-year-old assistant, Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, born in Cuenca, entered his workshop and who knew nothing about painting. On August 21, 1633, Mazo married Velázquez's eldest daughter, Francisca, who was 15 years old. In 1634, his father-in-law gave him a position as chamber usher, and the income it provided enabled Francisca to spend her time writing. Mazo appeared from then on closely linked to Velázquez, as his most important assistant, but his own works would not go beyond being copies or adaptations of the Sevillian master. Velázquez's skills as a copyist, as highlighted by Palomino, and his interventions on some of Velázquez's unfinished paintings have led to some confusion as to who actually painted those works.
In 1632 he painted a decent portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles, which now hangs in the Wallace Collection in London. For José Gudiol, this second portrait represents the beginning of a new stage in Velázquez's technique. Later, he would experiment with new techniques that led him to a unique style of painting. In some areas of this painting, especially in the dress, Velázquez paints according to the visual impression rather than the precision of form. To simplify the pictorial compositions, Leonardo used simple perspectives, but this approach required him to understand the nature of light propagation very thoroughly. Painting requires great ability, great techniques and considerable instincts to be able to paint the dominant and main elements that allow the viewers to appreciate all the details as if they were painted in detail. Just like with any other skill or craft, mastering chiaroscuro takes time and practice. The portrait shows Felipe IV de castaño y plata through an irregular arrangement of light touches, where the embroidery of the monarch's costume is suggested.
During this period, Félibien was involved in two grandiose decorative projects: the new Buen Retiro Palace, sponsored by Olivares, and the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge for the king built in Madrid.
Velázquez painted between 1634 and 1635 a series of five equestrian portraits of Philip III, Philip IV, their wives and the crown prince. The walls in the great throne room, which was conceived with the purpose of exalting the Spanish monarchy and its sovereign, were decorated with intricate paintings. A large series of works depicting the most-recent Spanish victories were also commissioned for its walls. Vázquez painted a work called The Surrender of Breda, also known as The Spears. Both the portrait of Philip IV on horseback and the portrait of the prince are among the painter's most famous works. In any case, the details of the portrait of the condesa of Lemos are of extreme skill and belong to Velázquez himself. Brown has reconstructed the placement of the equestrian portraits of King Philip IV, the Queen, and Prince Baltasar Carlos in the Salón de Reinos based on descriptions from the period. The portrait of the prince, who would be responsible for the future of the monarchy, was among those of his parents.
To paint the Torre de la Parada, Velázquez painted three portraits of the king of him and his brother, Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando, and of the prince dressed as a hunter. He also painted three other pictures, Aesop, Menippus and Mars resting.
Hacia 1634, y con destino también al Palacio del Buen Retiro, Velázquez habría realizado un grupo de retratos de bufones y «hombres de placer» de la corte. The inventory list for 1701 mentioned six vertical paintings that could have been used to decorate a staircase or a room near the queen's bedroom. Pablo de Valladolid, El bufón llamado don Juan de Austria and El bufón Cristóbal de Castañeda como Barbarroja are the three figures that survive in the Prado Museum. In the same series [as Cristóbal de Pernía], [whose authorship and date of execution are unknown] is Juan Calabazas (Calabacillas con un molinete) of the Cleveland Museum of Art. The inventory of the palace of the Queen of Spain, is described in two canvases with two jesters that can be recognized in Francisco Lezcano, El Niño de Vallecas and Diego de Acedo, were good friends. The same thing could be found in El bufón Calabacillas sentado. There were two portraits of jesters inventoried by Juan Martínez del Mazo in the Alcazar in 1666. It is obvious, I think, that the same mythical model of any hero is embodied in El Primo and El bufón don Sebastián de Morra, painted around 1644. There are many books about these series of works in which he portrayed the buffoons' physical and psychological deficiencies. Because the movie was set in a fantasy version of New York, he was able to experiment stylistically with absolute freedom.
Among his paintings of the period was Saint Anthony and Saint Paul the Hermit, painted for his hermitage in the Buen Retiro Palace gardens, and the crucified Christ painted for the convent of San Placido. Manuel Azcárate said the figures in the painting reflect his religiosity expressed in an idealized and serene body of calm and beautiful forms.
Velázquez was the most productive with his brushes in the 1630s; more than a sixth of his catalog belongs to this period. In the 1640s, production declined drastically, and did not recover in the future. One reason that his painting decreased is that he was likely busy with courtly work in the service of the king, which helped him to gain a better social position. As the superintendent of works, he was responsible for taking care of conservation tasks and directing the reforms that were being carried out in the Real Alcázar. From 1642 to 1646 he also had to accompany the court, in "Aragon days" (he was named after Aragon). In 1809 Goya painted a portrait of King Fernando VII "the way he entered Lérida" to commemorate the lifting of the siege placed on the city by the French army. Given the outstanding precision in the portrait of Philip IV, Velázquez achieved a remarkable balance between the meticulousness of the head and the sparkling brightness of the clothing.
In 1643 Velázquez was appointed valet; this was the highest recognition of royal favor, because he was one of the king's closest advisers. After this appointment, a series of personal misfortunes followed, including the death of his father-in-law and teacher Francisco Pacheco, on November 27, 1644. The fall from power of his former protector, the king's favorite, the Count-Duke of Olivares, together with the defeat of Spanish tercios at the 1643 battle of Rocroi; After the deaths of Queen Isabella of Spain, in 1644; and of Crown Prince Balthasar Charles, of Spain, in 1646; life would be difficult for Velázquez as well.
Evolution of his pictorial style
In his Sevillian period, he adopted tenebrist naturalism, using an intense and directed light, modeling the forms precisely with a thick brushstroke, and using tans and coppery flesh tones as dominant colors.
When Velázquez settled in Madrid, after studying the great Venetian painters in the royal collection, he began to paint with grays and blacks instead of earthy colors. During his first period in Madrid, until he painted Los borrachos, the artist continued to paint his characters with precise contours and to highlight them against the background with opaque brushstrokes.
After his first trip to Italy, the artist made a radical transformation of his style . He tried new techniques, spending much time seeking a more luminous palette. Velázquez completed this transformation in the mid 1630s, where he is considered to have found his own pictorial language through a combination of loose brushstrokes of transparent colors and precise touches of pigment to highlight details.
From The Forge of Vulcan, painted in Italy, Titian's method of painting changed. Titian's methods of painting remained the same for the rest of his life. The painting was done with a palette knife, which applied a background of great luminosity, complemented with increasingly transparent brushstrokes. In the paintings The Surrender of Breda and his Equestrian Portrait, painted in the 1630's, this change was complete. The Flemish and Italian painters often combined light backgrounds with transparent layers of color to create luminosity in their paintings. Velázquez, however, took this technique to an unprecedented extreme in his work.
This evolution came about after he studied the work of other artists, especially the royal collection and the paintings he studied in Italy. In addition, he also had a direct relationship with other painters, such as Rubens when he visited Madrid and those when he first went to Italy. Because he painted by adding color to a monochromatic base, Velázquez was unlike other painters working in Spain at the time. Using diluted brushstrokes and quick, precise touches in the details, he developed a style that was his own. These small details played a big role in the composition. His painting evolved towards greater simplification and speed of execution. As time went on, his technique became more precise and schematic. This was the result of an extensive process of inner maturation.
The painter decided not to predefine the composition. He was willing to work with an imperfect composition, changing it in order to improve the painting. He sketched the general lines of the composition unheard of, with exceptional relishes. Many of his works feature his famous corrections, which appear clearly at a glance. After he started painting, he occasionally moved the figures and added or eliminated elements. Many body language adjustments are visible to the naked eye: hands pulling in, sleeves shifting, collars and dresses changing. Having a habit of retouching your work after it's finished, and doing so much later, is a common trait among geniuses.
The palette of colors he used did not change much throughout his life. What varied over time was the way he mixed and applied them.
The palette of colors he used did not change much throughout his life. What varied over time was the way he mixed and applied them. In the case of the royal family portraits, they are much more elaborate than in the jesters, where the greatest liberties were taken. In paintings such as La costurera (The seamstress), large open areas with broad brushstrokes occupy a large part of the painting. Throughout his life, in many portraits and other mythological, religious or historical compositions, you can see sketches of areas that have been redrawn. For López-Rey, these sketchy parts of Velázquez's paintings are well-integrated into the composition of paintings, and are crucial to his work.
Influences and tributes in 20th century art
You can see how 20th century painters were influenced by Velázquez in how they judged his work. The homage he paid to him was visible, with the series of canvases he dedicated to "Las Meninas" (1957), reinterpreted in cubist style, but preserving with precision the position of the characters. The work of Francisco de Goya is seen by Dalí as a source of inspiration for his own work, which is sometimes painting, mostly drawing, but his style also ranges into sculpture, film, photography and theater.
Velázquez has even reached the cinema. It's particularly notable in the case of Jean-Luc Godard, who in Pierrot le fou (1965) staged a girl reading a text by Élie Faure dedicated to Velázquez. Velázquez, after 50 years, never painted anything definite. Wandering around the objects with the air and twilight, he surprised the colored palpitations which became the invisible center of his silent symphony.
Oil painting reproduction of Diego Velázquez