Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (baptized on June 6, 1599 - August 6, 1660) was a Spanish painter, 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).
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, famous modern artists, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Francis Bacon, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.
Birthplace of Velázquez in Seville
Born in Seville, Andalucia, Spain, Velázquez, the first child of João Rodrigues de Silva and Jerónima Velázquez, was baptized at the church of St. Peter in Seville on Sunday, June 6, 1599. This christening must have followed the baby's birth by no more than a few weeks, or perhaps only a few days. Velázquez's paternal grandparents, Diogo da Silva and Maria Rodrigues, had moved to Seville from their native Portugal decades earlier. When Velázquez was offered knighthood in 1658, he claimed descent from the lesser nobility in order to qualify, but in fact his grandparents were tradespeople, and possibly Jewish conversos.
As for João Rodrigues da Silva and his wife, both were born in Seville, and were married, also at the church of St. Peter, on December 28, 1597.
Velázquez was educated by his parents to fear God and, intended for a learned profession, received good training in languages and philosophy. Influenced by many artists, he showed an early gift for art; consequently, he began to study under Francisco de Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the Italian influence of the early Seville school. Velázquez remained with him for one year. It was probably from Herrera that he learned to use brushes with long bristles.
After leaving Herrera's studio when he was 12 years old, Velázquez began to serve as an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco, an artist and teacher in Seville. Though considered a generally dull, undistinguished painter, Pacheco sometimes expressed a simple, direct realism in contradiction to the style of Raphael that he was taught. Velázquez remained in Pacheco's school for five years, studying proportion and perspective and witnessing the trends in the literary and artistic circles of Seville.
To Madrid (early period)
Vieja friendo huevos (1618, English: Old Woman Frying Eggs). National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh
By the early 1620s, his position and reputation were assured in Seville. On April 23, 1618, Velázquez married Juana Pacheco (June 1, 1602 - August 10, 1660), the daughter of his teacher. She bore him two daughters—his only known family. The elder, Francisca de Silva Velázquez y Pacheco (1619–1658), married painter Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo at the Church of Santiago in Madrid on August 21, 1633; the younger, Ignacia de Silva Velázquez y Pacheco, born in 1621, died in infancy.
Velázquez produced notable works during this time. Known for his compositions of amusing genre scenes (also called bodegones), such as Old Woman Frying Eggs, his sacred subjects include Adoración de los Reyes (1619, The Adoration of the Magi), and Jesús y los peregrinos de Emaús (1626, Christ and the Pilgrims of Emmaus), both of which begin to express his more pointed and careful realism.
Madrid and Philip IV
Philip IV in Brown and Silver, 1632
Velázquez went to Madrid in the first half of April 1622, with letters of introduction to Don Juan de Fonseca, himself from Seville, who was chaplain to the King. 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 stopped in Toledo on his way from Seville, on the advice of Pacheco, or back from Madrid on that of Góngora, 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 (175 g 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. On August 16, 1623, Philip IV sat for Velázquez. 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, he received 300 ducats from the king to pay the cost of moving his family to Madrid, which became his home for the remainder of his life.
El Triunfo de Baco or Los Borrachos 1629 (English: The art of Bacchus/The Drunks)
Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa, Philip IV's daughter with Elisabeth of France
Through the bust portrait of the king, painted in 1623, Velázquez secured admission to the royal service, with a salary of 20 ducats per month, besides medical attendance, lodgings and payment for the pictures he might paint. The portrait was exhibited on the steps of San Felipe and was received with enthusiasm. It is now lost. The Museo del Prado, however, has two of Velázquez's portraits of the king (nos. 1070 and 1071) in which the severity of the Seville period has disappeared and the tones are more delicate. The modeling is firm, recalling that of Antonio Mor, the Dutch portrait painter of Philip II, who exercised a considerable influence on the Spanish school. In the same year, the art of Wales (afterwards Charles I) arrived at the court of Spain. Records indicate that he sat for Velázquez, but the picture is now lost. In September 1628, Peter Paul Rubens came to Madrid as an emissary from the Infanta Isabella, and Velázquez accompanied him to view the Titians at the Escorial. Rubens was then at the height of his powers. The seven months of the diplomatic mission showed Rubens' brilliance as painter and courtier. Rubens had a high opinion of Velázquez, but he had no significant influence on his painting. He reinforced Velázquez's desire to see Italy and the works of the great Italian masters.
In 1627, Philip set a competition for the best painters of Spain with the subject to be the expulsion of the Moors. Velázquez won. His picture was destroyed in a fire at the palace in 1734. Recorded descriptions of it say that it depicted Philip III pointing with his baton to a crowd of men and women being led away by soldiers, while the female personification of Spain sits in calm repose. Velázquez was appointed gentleman usher as reward. Later he also received a daily allowance of 12 réis, the same amount allotted to the court barbers, and 90 ducats a year for dress. Five years after he painted it in 1629, as an extra payment, he received 100 ducats for the picture of Bacchus (The art of Bacchus). The spirit and aim of this work are better understood from its alternate Spanish name, Los Borrachos (The Drunks) or Los Bebedores (the drinkers), who are paying mock homage to a half-naked ivy-crowned young man seated on a wine barrel. The painting is firm and solid, and the light and shade are more deftly handled than in former works. Altogether, this production may be taken as the most advanced example of the first style of Velázquez.
In 1629, he went to live in Italy for a year and a half. Though his first Italian visit is recognized as a crucial chapter in the development of Velázquez's style – and in the history of Spanish Royal Patronage, since Philip IV sponsored his trip – we know little about the details and specifics: what the painter saw, whom he met, how he was perceived and what innovations he hoped to introduce into his painting. It is canonical to divide the artistic career of Velázquez by his two visits to Italy, with his second grouping of works following the first visit and his third grouping following the second visit. This somewhat arbitrary division may be accepted though it will not always apply, because, as is usual in the case of many painters, his styles at times overlap each other. Velázquez rarely signed his pictures, and the royal archives give the dates of only his most important works. Internal evidence and history pertaining to his portraits supply the rest to a certain extent.
Return to Madrid (middle period)
Velázquez then painted the first of many portraits of the young art and heir to the Spanish throne, Don Baltasar Carlos, looking dignified and lordly even in his childhood, in the dress of a field marshal on his prancing steed. The scene is in the riding school of the palace, the king and queen looking on from a balcony, while Olivares attends as master of the horse to the art. Don Baltasar died in 1646 at the age of seventeen, so, judging by his age in the portrait, it must have been painted in about 1641.
La rendición de Breda (1634–1635, English: The Surrender of Breda) was inspired by Velázquez's first visit to Italy, in which he accompanied Ambrogio Spinola, who conquered the Dutch city of Breda a few years prior. This masterwork depicts a transfer of the key to the city from the Dutch to the Spanish army during the Siege of Breda. It is considered one of the best of Velázquez's paintings.
The powerful minister Olivares was the early and constant patron of the painter. His impassive, saturnine face is familiar to us from the many portraits painted by Velázquez. Two are notable; one is a full-length, stately and dignified, in which he wears the green cross of the order of Alcantara and holds a wand, the badge of his office as master of the horse, the other, a great equestrian portrait in which he is flatteringly represented as a field marshal during action. In these portraits, Velázquez has well repaid the debt of gratitude that he owed to his first patron, whom Velázquez stood by during Olivares's fall from power, thus exposing himself to the great risk of the anger of the jealous Philip. The king, however, showed no sign of malice towards his favorite painter.
The sculptor Juan Martínez Montañés modeled a statue on one of Velázquez's equestrian portraits of the king, painted in 1636, which was cast in bronze by the Florentine sculptor Pietro Tacca and which now stands in the Plaza de Oriente at Madrid. The original of this portrait no longer exists, but several others do. Velázquez, in this and in all his portraits of the king, depicts Philip wearing the golilla, a stiff linen collar projecting at right angles from the neck. It was invented by the king, who was so proud of it that he celebrated it by a festival followed by a procession to the church to thank God for the blessing. Thus, the golilla was the height of fashion, and appeared in most of the male portraits of the period.
Velázquez was in constant and close attendance on Philip, accompanying him in his journeys to Aragon in 1642 and 1644, and was doubtless present with him when he entered Lerida as a conqueror. It was then that he painted a great equestrian portrait in which the king is represented as a great commander leading his troops—a role which Philip never played except in pageantry. All is full of animation except the stolid face of the king. It hangs as a pendant to the great Olivares portrait—fit rivals of the neighboring Charles V by Titian, which inspired Velázquez to excel himself, and both remarkable for their silvery tone and their feeling of open air.