Diego Velazquez was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. Diego Velazquez 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, Diego Velazquez painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (shown here).
An artist of astonishing technique and confidence, many art critics say Diego Velazquez is unsurpassed as a portrait artist. His great fame came long after his death, starting in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when he was used as a model for Realist and Impressionist artists, such as Manet.
A realist, Diego Velazquez painted only what he saw. His men and women seem to breathe, his horses are full of action, and his dogs full of life. Velázquez was born in Seville early in June 1599, the son of a lawyer of noble Portuguese descent. Velázquez was the son of Rodríguez de Silva, a lawyer in Seville, descended from a noble Portuguese family, and was baptized on the 6th of June 1599.
Following a common Spanish usage, he is known by his mother's name Velázquez. There has been considerable diversity of opinion as to his full name, but he was known to his contemporaries as Diego de Silva Velázquez, and signed his name thus. Diego Velazquez was educated by his parents in the fear of God, and was intended for a learned profession, for which he received a good training in languages and philosophy. But the bent of the boy was towards art, and he was placed under the elder Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the Italian influence of the early Seville school.
Diego Velazquez fell in love with Pacheco's daughter Juana, whom he married in 1618 at Pacheco's hearty approval. The young painter set himself to begin recreating in his art the commonest things, earthenware jars of the country people, birds, fish, fruit and flowers of the marketplace. For the first few years after he had served his apprenticeship, Velázquez's works fell into three categories. These were the bodegón, which comprised everyday subjects combined with still life, portraits, and religious scenes.
Diego Velazquez also showed a strong bias towards naturalism. One early painting that he produced, the "Water Seller of Seville" (Shown here), is on display at Apsley House in London. This is often compared with the work of Caravaggio because it has a very clever use of light and shadow, and is a realistic portrayal of nature. Velázquez used the people of Seville as models for his religious paintings and his Adoration of the Magi,(shown below) actually includes portraits of his own family and a self-portrait for the biblical figures.
Velázquez moved in the intellectual circles of Seville, and was introduced to many of the poets and writers of the time. This was to influence Diego Velazquez later in his life when his work adopted more Classical themes. In 1622, Diego Velazquez painted a portrait of the great poet Luis de Góngora y Argote.
Diego Velazquez was now eager to see more of the world and went to Madrid in 1622, fortified with letters of introduction to the Count-Duke Juan Fonseca, who held a good position at court. Diego Velazquez spent several months there, accompanied only by his servant. The impression which Velázquez made in the capital must have been very strong, because in the following year he was summoned to return by Count-Duke of Olivares, the all-powerful minister of Philip IV. On this occasion he was accompanied by his father-in-law. In the following year, 1624, Diego Velazquez moved his family to Madrid, which became his home for the remainder of his life.
In 1629, Diego Velazquez 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, little is known 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. 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 Diego Velazquez 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. Had it not been for this royal appointment, which enabled Velázquez to escape the censorship of the Inquisition, he would not have been able to release his "La Venus del ot;, also known as "The Rokeby Venus" (shown here).
It is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. The importance of Diego Velázquez's art even today is evident in considering the respect with which twentieth century painters regard his work. Pablo Picasso presented the most durable homage to Diego Velázquez in 1957 when he recreated "Las Meninas" in 58 variations, in his characteristically cubist form.