"I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art."


Velázquez, Diego (1599-1660), was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period. He is regarded as Spain's greatest painter and one of the supreme artists of all time. A master of technique, highly individual in style, Diego Velázquez may have had a greater influence on European art than any other painter. From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez's artwork was a model for the realist and impressionist painters, in particular Édouard Manet. Since that time, more modern artists, including Spain's Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, as well as the Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velázquez was born in Seville, Spain, presumably shortly before his baptism on June 6, 1599. His father was of noble Portuguese descent. In his teens he studied art with Francisco Pacheco, whose daughter he married. He learned much from studying nature. After his marriage at the age of 19, Velázquez went to Madrid. When he was 24 he painted a portrait of Philip IV, who became his patron.

The artist made two visits to Italy. On his first, in 1629, he copied masterpieces in Venice and Rome. He returned to Italy 20 years later and bought many paintings, by Titian, Tintoretto, and Paolo Veronese, and statuary for the king's collection.

Except for these journeys, Velázquez lived in Madrid as court painter. His paintings include landscapes, mythological and religious subjects, and scenes from common life, called genre paintings. Most of them, however, are portraits of court notables that rank with the portraits painted by Titian and Anthony Van Dyck.

Duties of Velázquez's royal offices also occupied his time. He was eventually made marshal of the royal household, and as such he was responsible for the royal quarters and for planning ceremonies.

In 1660 Velázquez had charge of his last and greatest ceremony: the wedding of the Infanta Maria Theresa to Louis XIV of France. This was a most elaborate affair. Worn out from these labors, Velázquez contracted a fever from which he died on August 6.

Velázquez was called the "noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country". He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. "His men and women seem to breathe", it has been said; "his horses are full of action and his dogs of life".

Because of Velázquez's great skill in merging color, light, space, rhythm of line, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as "the painter's painter". Ever since he taught Bartolomé Murillo, Velázquez has directly or indirectly led painters to make original contributions to the development of art. Others who have been noticeably influenced by him are Francisco de Goya, Camille Corot, Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet, and James McNeill Whistler

As court painter to Philip IV, Velazquez spent a large part of his life recording, in his cool, detached way, the objective appearance of this rigidly conventional royal household, with little interpretation but with the keenest eye for selecting what was important for pictorial expression and with a control of paint to secure exactly the desired effect. Through acquaintance, while in Italy, with the work of Caravaggio and through contact with the Spaniard José de Ribera (1588-1656), he learned something of the potentialities of a very limited palette, black and neutrals, as is evident in many of his portraits, which are subtle harmonies of grays and blacks.

In painting these royal portraits, whatever interpretation he made or whatever emotional reaction he experienced he kept to himself. Royalty, courtliness of the most rigid character was his task to portray, not individual personality. However, the portrait of Innocent X leads on to suspect that there might have been more interpretation had the painter been free to express it.

Through his practice of using pigment as it is used in "Maids of Honor", and "Innocent X", in short or long, thin or thick, apparently hasty and spontaneous but actually most skillfully calculated strokes, Velázquez was a forerunner of the modern practice or direct painting.


"Los Borrachos" (circa 1628) Oil on canvas, 165 x 225 cm - 65 x 88 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Forge of Vulcan" (1630) Oil on canvas, 223 x 290 cm - 87 3/4 x 114 1/8 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Count-Duke of Olivares on Horseback" (1634) Oil on canvas, 313 x 239 cm - 123 3/8 x 97 1/8 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Surrender of Breda" (before 1635) Oil on canvas, 307 x 367 cm - 10 7/8 x 12 1/2 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"Innocent X" (circa 1650) Oil on canvas, 141 x 119 cm - 55.5 x 46.9 in. Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome, Italy.




"Juan de Pareja" (1650) Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 69.9 cm - 32 x 27 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.




"Las Meninas (Maids of Honor)" (1656-57) Oil on canvas, 310 x 276 cm - 122 x 108.7 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"Old Woman Frying Eggs" (1618) Oil on canvas, 101 x 120 cm - 39.8 x 47.2 in. National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.




"Abbess Jerónima de la Fuente" (1620) Oil on canvas, 162 x 107.5 cm - 63.8 x 42.3 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Waterseller of Seville" (1623) Oil on canvas, 106.7 x 81 cm - 42 x 31.9 in. Wellington Museum, Apsley House, London, UK.




"Democritus" (1628-29) Oil on canvas, 101 x 81 cm - 39.8 x 31.9 in. Musée des Beaux-Arts et de la Céramique, Rouen, france.




"Christ in the House of Mary and Martha" (circa 1620) Oil on canvas, 60 x 103.5 cm - 23.6 x 40.7 in. National Gallery, London, UK.




"Infante Don Carlos" (1626-27) Oil on canvas, 209 x 125 cm - 82.3 x 49.2 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Fable of Arachne (Las Hilanderas)" (circa 1657) Oil on canvas, 220 x 289 cm - 86.6 x 113.8 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback" (1635-36) Oil on canvas, 209 x 173 cm - 82.3 x 68.1 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra" (circa 1645) Oil on canvas, 106.5 x 81.5 cm - 41.9 x 32.1 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.




"Venus at her Mirror" (1649-51) Oil on canvas, 122.5 x 177 cm - 48.2 x 69.7 in. National Gallery, London, UK.




"The Coronation of the Virgin" (1645) Oil on canvas, 178 x 135 cm - 70.1 x 53.1 in. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.

Text source: 'Webmuseum' (www.ibiblio.org/wm) and others.

Related Artists:

Related Terms: Baroque, Realism, Genre Painting.


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