Diego Velasquez is one of Spain’s most celebrated and influential painters, born in 1599 he rose to become the leading artist in the royal court of Phillip IV. Velasquez came along during the contemporary Baroque period and went on to become one of it’s leading exponents alongside the likes of Peter Paul Rubens. Baroque was an elaborate style of painting and was especially good a depicting religious scenes; for this reason, its use was encouraged by the catholic church, its dramatic and direct style perfectly captured the drama of religious imagery.
Born in Seville, Velasquez was the son of a lawyer of noble Portuguese descent. He was well educated in philosophy, religion and languages; his parents clearly intended him for a high calling. Velasquez showed an early passion for art and displayed an obvious talent and began his studies in the discipline in Seville. At age 11 he began studying under Francesco Pacheco where he remained for five years, advancing his talents and absorbing all he could from the art scene in Seville. In 1618 he married Pacheco’s daughter with his mentor’s whole-hearted endorsement.
By 1620 Velasquez’s reputation was assured in Seville as a superb painter; early works such as “Vieja firendo huevos" painted in 1618, displayed his immense talents as he began to display a greater maturity; his works taking on an acute realism. In the latter part of 1622 Velasquez made his first trip to Madrid where he began to paint court figures and garner an excellent reputation. He famously painted a portrait of poet Luis de Gongora y Argote which was extremely well received.
When the King’s court painter died, Velasquez was presented with an opportunity to paint the king who first sat for the painter in 1623. Velasquez completed the portrait in one day and Phillip IV was pleased with the outcome, thus beginning a long and fruitful relationship that saw Velasquez admitted into the royal service. During this period Velasquez painted many portraits of his king, unfortunately most of these are now lost although two excellent examples can be found in the Prado museum in Madrid. In 1627 the king set a competition to find the best painter in Spain on the subject of the expulsion of the Moors and Velasquez duly won, further advancing him in the eyes of the Phillip IV.
In 1629 Velasquez made his first visit to Italy, he sailed from Barcelona in the company of the Marques de Spinola, the conqueror of Breda. The companionship gave him the inspiration for one of his most famous works, “The Surrender of Breda" which he would paint five years later. Velasquez was greatly influenced by what he saw in Italy and in Venice and the Spaniard took copies of many famous works including Tintorello’s “The Last Supper" and “Crucifixion". He also painted the famous “Forge of the Vulcan" in 1630 which also hangs in the Prado museum today.
On his return to Madrid Velasquez continued to be held in high favour as the Kings favourite painter and this middle period of his career saw him produce some of his greatest works, such as “Christ on the Cross" painted in 1632. At the Kings behest Velasquez also started an academy of art in Spain, something the art-loving Phillip IV had been keen to do for some time.
Velasquez took a second trip to Italy not long after where he produced a startling portrait of Pope Innocent X. After two years he was recalled to Spain and entered the twilight of his career. 1656 saw Velasquez produce “Las Meninas", undoubtedly the painter’s “magnum opus" and his most famous work. The painting was famously re-worked by Picasso in 1957 to startling effect. Velasquez was to die four years later in 1660 after being stricken by a fever in Madrid, his body was interred in the church of San Juan Bautista – the church was unfortunately destroyed by the French some years later so his burial place is today unknown. What is known however is the legacy that this brilliant painter left, his technical ability and personal style had, quite rightly, earned him a place in the pantheon of art.
Mike McDougall has five years experience working as a travel writer and marketeer. He is currently working to provide additional content for Babylon-idiomas , a Spanish language school with an excellent presence in Spain and Latin America.
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