Spanish painter. One of the outstanding artists of the 17th century, he was court painter to Philip IV in Madrid, where he produced many portraits of the royal family as well as occasional religious paintings, genre scenes, and other works. Notable among his portraits is Las Meninas/The Maids of Honour (1656; Prado, Madrid), while Women Frying Eggs (1618; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) is a typical genre scene.
Throughout his career realism was the basis of Velázquez's art, but the means by which he expressed the way he saw the world grew increasingly subtle. His colour became cooler and his brushwork freer, and in his late works the brushstrokes appear meaningless when viewed closely, but at the right distance coalesce to form shapes and spaces rendered with an astonishingly convincing tone and atmosphere, culminating in Las Meninas.
With his technical development went an increasing psychological penetration, and whether he was painting the king of Spain, then the most powerful man in the world, or the court dwarfs, Velázquez approached his work with the same complete honesty, conviction, and respect for the humanity of his sitters. His portrait of Pope Innocent X 1650 (Doria Pamphili Gallery, Rome) is among his most important achievements in portraiture.
Among his other major works are The Surrender of Breda 1634–35 (Prado), one of the greatest contemporary history paintings; The Rokeby Venus about 1648 (National Gallery, London), the first Spanish nude; and the portraits Philip IV (National Gallery, London) and Juan de Pareja 1650 (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Velázquez was born in Seville. His first master was Francisco de Herrera, from whom he went to the more cultivated guidance of Francisco Pacheco, whose daughter, Juana, he married 1618. His early works produced in Seville were bodegones (‘kitchen pictures’) of the type then popular, with peasant figures and careful still-life details, clearly showing the influence of Caravaggio's ‘naturalism’. Examples are the Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (National Gallery, London), the Cook (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh), and the Water Carrier (Apsley House, London).
In 1622 he went to Madrid on a short visit. He was recalled the following year by Philip IV's minister, Olivares, and gained immediate success and prompt appointment as painter to the king. A painting that established his reputation was The Topers (Los borrachos) 1629 (Prado). At this time he met Rubens in Madrid and was also stimulated by his first visit to Italy 1629–31. He studied and copied the great Venetians in Venice, and went on to Rome and Naples, where he met José de Ribera. His Forge of Vulcan about 1630 (Prado) attempts a reconciliation of the mythological theme as treated by the Italians and his native sense of realism.
From 1631 he settled to an assiduous court routine which entailed various official duties as well as painting, broken only by a second visit to Italy (Genoa, Venice, Naples, and Rome) 1649–51. Paintings of the royal family, for example the full-length Philip IV (National Gallery, London) and Prince Baltasar Carlos Dressed as a Hunter (Prado) mainly occupied him, though to this period belongs the great Surrender of Breda (Las lanzas) to commemorate the successful siege of Breda by the Spanish commander Ambrogio Spinola. The second visit to Italy (to buy pictures and to gain information useful for the organization of a proposed Spanish Royal Academy) produced Velázquez's portrait of Innocent X, his remarkable landscape sketch of the Gardens of the Villa Medici (Prado), and the Rokeby Venus, in which he sought to emulate Titian.
His later years are marked not by prolific output but by a remarkable series of masterpieces. His portraits of Philip IV's second wife, Mariana of Austria, and of the Infanta Margarita, combine exquisite colour with breadth of design. In his famous group pictures Las Meninas and The Tapestry Weavers (Las hilanderas) about 1657 (Prado) intricate themes are perfectly resolved.
Velázquez's immediate influence in Spain was small, though Goya was to declare as the source of his inspiration ‘Rembrandt, Velázquez and Nature’, and many great artists since, such as Manet, have been inspired by his work.
Velázquez (or Velásquez) Diego
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