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The Cardinal Infante Don Fernando (Philip IV's Younger brother) as a Hunter, Oil by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660, Spain)

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Diego Velazquez

An example of this style, often referred to genre painting, is the Water Carrier of Seville. An elderly man in torn clothing stands in the center of the painting. The man takes a glass from a young man stepping out of the shadows with one hand. The other hand of the elderly man rests on the large jug of water in the foreground of the painting. Velazquez’s mastery of naturalism and realistic painting can be readily seen in this work. Every wrinkle and pock mark is depicted on the elderly sun weathered man’s face. The jug of water looks as if it could be a real tangible object in our world if only we would stretch out our hand and wrest it from the water carrier’s grasp. The glazed of the ceramic jug, the single drop of water rolling slowly down its surface are all so realistic looking that they very nearly could have been taken from a photograph if only photography had been invented in the beginning of the seventeenth century.

One of the most famous paintings by Velazquez during his time as court painter is Las Meninas. This painting is supposed to be a portrait of the girl in the center of the painting, the king’s daughter. Attending her are her maids, among others. To the right of the painting stands Velazquez, looking out at the viewer. There is some debate as to what he is painting. Is he painting the young princess, this very painting? Or is he painting the two figures who’s faces we see in the mirror on the rear wall? Either way, the painting is just as much an homage to Velazquez as to the royal family. Velazquez did not slip his face into a crowd of people, as other artists did before him, but very unabashedly added himself painting into the foreground of the work. The walls are also adorned with his own canvases. Brazen or simply self-confident, either way, Velazquez deserved the praise he gave himself.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (June 6, 1599 – August 6, 1660) was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. 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, 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.

Early life

Birthplace of Velazquez in SevilleBorn in Seville, Andalusia, Spain, Diego, the first child of Juan Rodriguez 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 Porto, Portugal decades earlier. As for Juan Rodriguez de Silva and his wife, both were born in Seville, and were married, also at the church of San Pedro(St Peter), on 28 December 1597. They came from the lesser nobility and were accorded the privileges generally enjoyed by the gentry (it was a Spanish custom, in order to maintain a legacy of maternal inheritance, for the eldest male to adopt the name of his mother).

He was educated by his parents to fear God and, intended for a learned profession, received good training in languages and philosophy. But 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: An Old Woman Frying Eggs). National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.By the early 1620s, his position and reputation were assured in Seville. In 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 younger, Ignacia de Silva Velázquez y Pacheco, died in infancy, while 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.

Velázquez produced other notable works in 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

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 y Argote. 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.

Complete 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.

Los Borrachos 1629 (English: The Drinkers/The Drunks)
Philip IV in Brown and Silver, 1632

Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain, Philip IV's daughterThrough a 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 Prince 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 kept his company among 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 effected no great change in 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 driven off under charge of 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 Feast of Bacchus). The spirit and aim of this work are better understood from its 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.

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