Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) Automatic translate
The great painter and brilliant diplomat Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez has become one of the brightest symbols of the 17th century art era. A talented artist, caressed by King Philip IV, lived a busy life and created amazing masterpieces of world painting. His works, called various critics, sometimes vital and sincere, sometimes cold and mysterious, have for many centuries won the hearts of art lovers around the world.
The exact date of birth of Diego Velazquez, the son of aristocrats, immigrants from Portugal, who lived in Spanish Seville, remained unknown. All we have is a record of June 6, 1599, testifying to the baptism of the future great master in the local church.
Diego was lucky from the very beginning, his parents favored the boy’s passion for drawing and early sent him to the studio of the most famous local painter - Francisco de Herrera the Elder (1576-1656). I must say that at that time, Seville was not just a thriving port city, it was famous throughout Spain for its monasteries, silk production, as well as poets, writers and beautiful painters.
The young artist was very diligent in training, and, according to early biographers, he grasped everything literally “on the fly”. However, only a year later, he left Herrera’s workshop, which was due to the extremely difficult character of the venerable painter.
But without a teacher, Diego did not stay. He was immediately accepted into the studio of another talented artist and a very courteous person - Francisco Pacheco (1564-1645). As an expert of the Inquisition in church painting and an academic artist, Pacheco was fond of the ideas of humanism, was well-mannered and famous for his responsiveness. A multilaterally educated teacher not only revealed the artistic abilities of the young man, but also introduced him to the higher circles of society, giving him a patronage in the future. It was in his workshop that Diego Velazquez met the future famous sculptor and architect Alonso Cano and the talented artist Francesco de Zurbaran. Pacheco in every sense believed in Velazquez. And as an artist, and as a person. He even married his fifteen-year-old daughter for him in 1618.
Diego Velazquez was only 17 years old when he joined the corporation of Seville artists, after which his independent career began. Soon, Diego and Pacheco’s daughter, Juana Miranda, had two daughters: Ignasia and Francisco, however, the first of them, Ignasia, died while being very small. But the young artist, although he began the life of a family man, did not forget his career for a minute.
Velazquez’s dream was to become a court painter of the king of Spain. To get closer to the goal, the artist goes to Madrid. There, in 1622 he wrote "Portrait of the poet Luis de Gongor-i-Artte" (Museums of Fine Arts, Boston), which attracts increased attention from important people at court. But, this time, such a welcome meeting for the painter with the monarch Philip IV, was not destined to take place. Velazquez returns with nothing back to Seville, where he continues to work.
At the very beginning of his career, Velazquez, as a very observant artist, became interested in genre paintings. Seville of those years was a very lively city, with many artisans and paupers on the streets and a busy life in numerous taverns.
The very first works of the master, who received fame, were devoted to the everyday life of numerous artisans, cooks and apprentices engaged in conversations, cooking or cleaning. This genre was called “bodegones” (the word “bodegon” in Spanish means “tavern, tavern”). The canvases of this series are characterized by a dark, most often conventional background. The usual meal of the common people was depicted by arranged jugs, glasses, plates and meager provisions, laid out directly on the boards of a table or white tablecloth.
The painting “The Old Cook” (circa 1618, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh) is a prime example of this genre. Tired elderly woman preparing eggs breakfast in a dark kitchen. A boy is waiting for cooking, apparently, someone’s apprentice or a servant of the heroine herself. The young man squeezes a jug of wine in his hand and holds a ripe melon in his other hand, obviously preparing to serve it all on the table. The lean interior of the tavern is represented by a rough block, with an earthenware plate standing on top of it, short scoops hanging from behind the cook and an old wicker basket. The whole picture is saturated with the monotony of the days that this elderly woman spends here.
A no less depressing plot with a wretched decor of the tavern is presented on the canvas "Two Young Men at the Table" (circa 1618, Wellington Museum, London). Here we see how in the foreground a pile of clean plates, an earthenware jug, an inverted iron cup, and a wooden pusher dry out. Nearby lies a crumpled rag, apparently serving as a towel. One of the young men drank his drink, and, bending over the table, quietly talking about something with his friend.
The ordinary, simple, and calm plot of these paintings became the reason for the somewhat contemptuous attitude of the Seville audience to the paintings of Velazquez. Art lovers consider painting too “mundane” for the high name “art”.
The picture “Breakfast” (circa 1618, the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg), belonging to the same series, is slightly different in mood. On the canvas, the painter depicted two cheerful young people in the company of an elderly respectable person. At least one of this trinity feasting in a tavern has a noble origin. This is evidenced by a short-brimmed hat hanging in the center of the wall, a sword, and by no means a snow-white collar. Despite this, the food on the table is very scarce, which does not spoil the mood of the whole company.
One of the young people, smiling, raised his thumb up, and the second with a happy look shows a filled bottle of wine. Only an elderly bearded man looks at his friends with a grin. This realistic picture of Velazquez is probably the only one in his series “bodegones”, where, despite the dull background and poverty of the depicted situation, the characters glow with optimism and carefree youth.
The canvas “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha” (circa 1620, National Gallery, London) is saturated with a completely different atmosphere. In the picture we see a young cook who is crushing something in her mortar. On the table in front of her are two eggs on a plate, a fish in a cup and heads of garlic. A woman prepares food (the fish here is a symbol of Christ), and her old interlocutor who is wise in life points to a picture telling about the gospel story.
In terms of composition, we have before us the classic version of “painting in a painting”, when two plots closely overlap in meaning. The sisters Mary and Martha listen to the speech of Christ who came to their house, leaving their household chores. Moreover, the blessing gesture of the Son of God extends to both depicted plots, and to the house of Mary and Martha, and to the meager meal in the plot of the main picture. So the artist draws a parallel between the biblical preparation of writing, suspended for the words of the Teacher, and the modern master of the everyday scene, where an elderly woman also stopped her goods, reminding her of eternal values.
A completely different allegory of life is presented in the work “Seller of Water from Seville” (1622, Wallace Collection, London). Here we see a commoner with a tanned wrinkled face, holding out a glass of water to a thoughtful little boy. The painter specially emphasized with chiaroscuro the rounded contours of the jug standing next to him and especially carefully painted the elegance of a transparent vessel, in which the fig fruit lies at the bottom, not only giving the water a pleasant taste, but also being an erotic symbol at that time. It turns out that an elderly man, as if casually offers an unsuspecting boy to try the "cup of love." In the background, the canvases, a strong young man, drank his glass with pleasure.
All paintings are distinguished by a dark, as if airless background, devoid of depth. The construction of each still life is strict and concise, but not without some solemnity. All the images chosen by the artist are vital and expressive, and the color of the paintings is balanced and calm.
A dream come true
Nevertheless, the interests of the young painter were not limited to the images of ordinary citizens, he was equally interested in the characters of famous secular personalities. So, in the summer of 1623, Velazquez embarks on a new trip to Madrid.
This time, the artist managed to establish strong contacts at the court of Philip IV. Under the patronage of an old friend of the artist Pacheco - royal chaplain don Juan de Fonseca, Velazquez received an order for a portrait from Count Olivares. Amazing performance, a noble origin and the necessary connections helped the painter first find in the person of the count a patron and friend, and then gave the good will of the monarch himself. A young, educated polyglot and lover of beautiful women, King Philip IV, who fully trusted Olivares, finally agreed to meet a little-known Seville artist.
The fire in the royal palace of 1734 destroyed both the palace itself and the huge collection of works of art stored in it. Among the lost paintings were all the first portraits of the Duke of Olivares and King Philip IV, owned by Velasquez.
But there was evidence of contemporaries that the artist was awarded the highest praise that the king could have for his works. Immediately, on the first year of his arrival in the capital, on October 6, 1623, the artist was appointed court painter of the King of Spain. In his workshop, located in the wing of the palace of the Spanish monarch, a special chair was installed for His Royal Majesty, and Philip IV was located there at any time convenient for him, often opening the room with his own key.
Naturally, such a rapid success of the new artist led to the emergence of many envious and ill-wishers. Velasquez’s artistic abilities were constantly questioned, and court nobles often expressed dissatisfaction with his arrogance and arrogance. But the artist had an indestructible patron. In “Portrait of Gaspard de Guzmán, Duke of Olivares” (1624, Museum of Art, São Paulo), the hero looks formidable and powerful gentleman. He stands in a majestic pose, only slightly leaning his hand on a table covered with a velvet tablecloth.
Having the patronage of the two most influential people of Spain, the artist, unlike most of the court painters of his time, was also an active nobleman, because of which he could not completely surrender to art.
Despite the strictest rules of court etiquette and constant palace intrigues, a very warm friendly relationship developed between Velazquez and the young monarch. Philip IV did not even want to pose for anyone if his favorite painter was away.
The artist used his special arrangement, which is clearly shown on the canvas "Portrait of Philip IV" (1631-1632, National Gallery, London). The king is depicted here in a robe full of silver. One of his hands rests calmly on the hilt of the sword, which is traditionally a symbol of power and power, but in the other hand the king holds a document on which Velasquez’s signature is clearly read. The monarch’s hat lies on a table deep in the picture, as if Philip IV had taken it off before an important audience, a minute ago.
Luxuriously decorated with magnificent works of art, the numerous labyrinths of corridors and gloomy rooms of the royal palace, greatly expanded the artistic horizons of the master. Acquainted with the paintings of Rubens and Titian, which made a strong impression on him, Velazquez commissioned the king painted horse portraits of Philip IV and his wife.
Unlike the monarch, Queen Isabella did not like to pose for artists, so only a few of her images have survived to this day, including the Equestrian Portrait of Queen Isabella of Bourbon (1634-1635, Prado, Madrid). The painting depicts the daughter of Maria Medici sitting in a regal pose, on a snow-white horse decorated with magnificent embroidered blanket. Like most portraits of the time, this one was obviously painted in the workshop, and Spanish nature in the background is nothing more than a prepared “backdrop”. In a flat, airless space, the queen gracefully holds the reins of her horse. The work is a vivid example of the ceremonial portrait traditional for Spain at that time.
However, the stiff and cold appearance of the characters on his canvases changed gradually. Over the years, the psychological characteristics of the portrayed began to become more complex, which was especially evident not in custom portraits of the royal family and nobles, but in the images of jesters and dwarfs, which, obviously, were many at the court of Philip IV.
According to some reports, there were more than a hundred jesters, freaks and dwarfs at the royal court of that time. The grimaces and various physical handicaps of these people were the only entertainment in the monotonous and dreary life of the inhabitants of the royal palace. Dwarfs and jesters were an integral part of the established order of the royal court, they were not fit to show pity or sympathy, they could only be laughed at, though, within the limits of etiquette. There was at the court a tradition of depicting freaks and dwarfs, over single and group portraits of which all Spanish painters of the 16th century worked.
This genre in painting even had its own separate name - Los truhanes. Often jesters were portrayed in ceremonial portraits next to their masters. Velazquez also has a number of works in this genre.
For example, in the Portrait of the Infanta Balthasar Carlos with the Dwarf (1631, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), next to the little prince, dressed in a beautiful, gold-embroidered suit with a livery thrown over his shoulder, there is a dwarf in a white apron. The dwarf holds a rattle in his left hand, and with his right he holds an apple to himself. The portrait raises a number of questions about the hidden psychological meaning laid down by the artist. So, the dwarf, who is without a doubt only a toy belonging to the heir to the throne, holds in his hands objects that for some reason strongly resemble a power and a scepter. And it is he, and not the heir to the throne, who looks like a real child in the picture, while the beautiful and dressed up Balthasar Carlos looks more like an empty doll.
All portraits of dwarfs at Velazquez are distinguished by expressiveness and deep sympathy. With a careful look at the “Portrait of the Dwarf El Primo” (1644, Prado, Madrid), it is difficult not to notice the seal and wisdom on his face. Usually dwarfs were not depicted in noble clothes, and the fact that in the picture the hero is dressed in a costume of a nobleman most likely means his noble origin. It is known for certain that El Primo had a good education and, in addition to his clownish duties, served in the royal office, so the artist portrayed him with books.
True, unadorned portraits of jesters and freaks speak much more about the artist than his commissioned works. Another example of the Los Truhanes painting is the Portrait of Francisco Lescano (1643-1645, Prado, Madrid). The composition of the canvas is very similar to the classic setting of the front portrait. The artist portrayed the jester as so kind and direct that it makes his apparent mental distinction akin to childish naivety rather than stupidity.
Some critics consider the “Portrait of Don Juan Calabasas” (circa 1643-1644, Prado, Madrid) ambiguous. The hunchback is depicted on it with the traditional attributes of stupidity - dried pumpkin rattles, called in Spanish "Kalabasas" (hence the name of the jester). Another name for the work is “El bobo”, which means “fool”. Nevertheless, the hero of the portrait is more like a professional artist, portraying a fool for fun to noble nobles, rather than a mentally retarded person.
The “Portrait of Don Sebastian del Morra” (1645, Prado, Madrid) makes a particularly strong impression. A dwarf with a large head and disproportionately short legs looks at the viewer with the penetrating and intelligent look of an educated, ironic and powerful man. The royal cape, draped over the narrow shoulders of the dwarf, looks like a mockery of fate over this man. Obviously, the artist, on duty, communicated a lot with all the inhabitants of the royal court and knew their characters very well.
During the time during which Velazquez made his career at the court, first from the court artist to the clerk, and later from the wardrobe to the administrator of the entire royal palace, he saw a lot. One mourning was replaced by another: at first Queen Isabella died, then Philip IV’s sister, Maria, died, and the heir to the throne, Prince Baltasar Carlos, died unexpectedly. The tired painter decided to leave the royal residence and, having received the favor of the monarch, left for Italy, determined to work on the landscapes.
Nature in the works of the master
Landscapes occupied a rather insignificant place in the work of Velazquez, but, nevertheless, there are several well-known sketches of the artist depicting the picturesque corners of the famous Medici park on the outskirts of Rome.
An example of such a landscape is the painting "Villa Medici in Rome. Facade of the Grotto Logzip "or" Villa Medici in Rome. Ariadne Pavilion ”(both 1630, Prado, Madrid). The works are distinguished by a direct perception of life, clarity of forms and a free manner of writing. The unique atmosphere of abandoned places contrasts sharply with emphasized staff figures of people, as if specially inscribed by the master in the composition in order to revive a dull park. Slightly sharp transitions of chiaroscuro in both sketches give the paintings a slight romantic sadness. For a long time, the work dates back to 1650-1651 years, that is, the period of the second trip of Velazquez to Italy. But thanks to recent studies, it became apparent that both sketches were written by the master much earlier, just on his first trip.
The painting “Equestrian Portrait of Philip IV” (circa 1634-1635, Prado, Madrid) serves as an example of a work in which Velazquez used a rather realistic landscape as a background, unlike many similar works that have a flat, airless space.
The artist’s work was not limited to portrait and landscape genres. The great painter created many paintings on mythological and historical subjects, which he always sought to interpret in his own way, not being equal to the established traditions and achievements of other famous painting masters.
Following the prevailing tradition in those days, Velazquez, even at the very beginning of his career, often turned to religious subjects. The artist’s works differed in their original interpretation, regardless of whether he depicted traditional subjects as independent works, for example, the paintings “The Immaculate Conception” (1618, National Gallery, London), or “The Adoration of the Magi” (1819, Prado, Madrid), or inserted a biblical plot into an ordinary genre scene, for example, “Christ in the House of Mary and Martha” (circa 1620, National Gallery, London).
After moving to Madrid, the painter created mainly portraits and practically did not appeal to the religious genre. The exception was a few works created in different years by order of the Spanish monarch.
According to legend, King Philip IV once ignited a vicious passion for one young nun of the Benedictine monastery of Madrid, San Placido. In redemption of this blasphemous sin, the monarch promised to present to the monastery magnificent works of art belonging to the brush of the most famous artist of the capital - Diego Velazquez.
The master created several paintings, the most famous of which was the painting “The Crucified Christ” (circa 1632, Prado, Madrid). Like most religious works of the artist, the picture differs in the original interpretation of the plot. The painter intentionally gave the image of Christ the most realistic and psychological coloring. Jesus is depicted on the cross in a very calm, tearless pose. Probably Velasquez sought to avoid expressing unbearable suffering, so half of the Savior’s face is hidden by a hanging strand of hair. His whole figure seems to radiate a warm glow, contrasting sharply with a dark transparent background. This technique gives the impression that the body of Jesus is a wall separating our world from all-consuming darkness.
The work “Coronation of Mary” (1645, Prado, Madrid) carries a completely different tone. In it, Velazquez depicted the New Testament Trinity, laying a crown entwined with beautiful flowers on the head of Mary. The face of Jesus is solemn and focused. Wise by power and experience, the gray-haired God father holds with one hand the crystal magic sphere. And in the middle, a dove fluttered its wings, frozen from it in a shining halo, from which golden rays of light poured onto Mary’s head. The well-thought-out coloristic decision of the group and its compositional construction resemble a human heart filled with divine spirit and blood. These canvases are rightfully treasures of the world’s best museums and their splendor compensate for the small number of religious works of the great painter.
The original interpretation of mythological plots
The mythological plots on the paintings of Velazquez also have a rather original interpretation. In all the paintings of this genre of the artist, it seems that the mythological side of the plan itself was not at all interested. Historical figures and gods were resolved in him not exaltedly and heroically, but rather mundane. For example, the painting “Triumph of Bacchus” (the second name is “Drunkards”, 1629, Prado, Madrid) does not show a feast of gods and satyrs, but a feast of ordinary Spanish tramps, located right in the field. Among them we see the ancient god Bacchus, along with his faun.
The young god has already awarded one of the participants in the fun with a wreath of vines and now absentmindedly lays the same wreath on the head of a soldier bowing before him. But the compositional center of the picture is not Bacchus at all, but a laughing beggar in a black wide-brimmed hat, holding a glass filled with wine. With all the seeming fun, all the participants look rather tired, or even sad. The tramp, bending over the shoulder of a young god, looks drunk and harsh. All characters seem to be taken from reality itself. The face of Bacchus is devoid of ancient perfection and sublimity, as is his body, with a protruding belly. At the same time, all the heroes are completely devoid of even a hint of vulgarity. The ingenious artist was able to very well surround the familiar everyday picture with Bacchic elements.
Another author’s interpretation has another work devoted to the mythological plot - “Forge of the Volcano” (1630, Prado, Madrid). The scene of the ancient episode is that Apollo arrives at Vulcan, the god of blacksmithing, who had cyclops in his apprenticeship, and tells the formidable deity the unpleasant news that the beautiful Venus, the wife of Vulcan, had betrayed him. It would seem that the reaction of God should be a storm of indignation, erupting in fire and iron.
But Velazquez interpreted the classic plot in a completely different way. In the medieval forge we see not cyclops, but strong men in loincloths. All blacksmiths look at the golden-haired Apollo suddenly appearing in a golden halo with a laurel wreath on his head and in antique toga with bewilderment. There is no resentment or resentment on Vulcan’s face - only doubt and surprise.
If it were not for the presence of a shining ancient god, we would have before us a typical everyday picture. There is also an allegory in the canvas - on a shelf above a blazing mountain we see a snow-white shiny jug. Of course, this bright vertical spot was needed by the painter to balance the color composition of the picture, because he is just on the opposite side of the white Apollo work. But the jug also contains a semantic load. Like a beautiful Venus, this perfectly white vessel belongs to the Volcano, and even standing directly above the red-hot mountain, next to the sooty iron and surrounded by sweaty male bodies, it remains pristine. So all truly loving men believe that their spouses are impeccable and loyal to them.
Two canvases - “Aesop” and “God of War Mars” (both about 1640, Prado, Madrid) were part of a large series designed to decorate the royal hunting castle located near Madrid Torre de la Parada. These famous characters are also deprived of pathos and look completely ordinary, that is, fully consistent with the artist’s manner. If the god of war looks like just a tired and pensive soldier, then Aesop looks like a completely deserted person. A hidden sadness envelops both heroes, which, obviously, was also characteristic of the author himself during the execution of the order. Citizens of Philip IV could not help but respond to the decline in which the country was.
Velazquez received a classical Catholic education and even was related to the official of the Holy Inquisition, however, this could not outweigh the strongest impression that the masters of the work of Italian classics made. So, after a second visit to Italy, the artist became interested in the image of nudity. There is information that he created a number of similar images that were completely uncharacteristic of Spanish painting of the time. Apparently, the young monarch shared the interests of his beloved painter, therefore, all these paintings soon decorated the rooms of the palace. But until our time, they, unfortunately, have not survived. With one exception, Venus in front of the Mirror (circa 1648, National Gallery, London) has become a unique example of a sensual female portrait by Velazquez.
As conceived by the author, the picture is a genre canvas with elements of a domestic scene. The naked goddess, with her back to the viewer, lies on silk sheets. She looks at herself in the mirror that the winged cupid holds for her, a red velvet curtain serves as the background for them. All the beautifully painted folds of Venus’s silk bed, her velvety skin, smooth seductive bends of her body, a ribbon floridly thrown on the mirror, and the direction of the drawn red drapery create the perfect composition, striking in its beauty and harmony.
As in other mythological canvases of Velazquez, the picture is quite a bit divine, everything is somewhat mundane and mundane. The cupid’s gray, as if unnatural wings contrast sharply with his well-fed body, and the black wide frame of the unclear mirror is designed to enhance the audience’s intrigue: what is the appearance of beautiful Venus? The reflection in the mirror is vague and unclear, but it is obvious that the face of the goddess, for some reason, does not shine with beauty, as one would expect by looking at her graceful silhouette.
In this work, the master remained true to himself - he once again depicted not a traditionally-expected divine image, but a simple person. Regarding that picture, there is a legend according to which, the Italian artist Flaminia Trivio posed for Velazquez. I must say that in those days, women rarely painted. Probably, a romance broke out between Trivio and the artist, after which Velazquez returned to his homeland, and Flaminia gave birth to a son from him. Therefore, “Venus in front of the mirror” is so sensual and strikingly different from the usual images of the master. In fact, the artist created for himself a real portrait of his beloved.
For two and a half centuries, the canvas changed several owners, and in 1914 it was completely attacked. Mary Richardson, one of the most ardent advocates of women’s rights, chopped the canvas with a hoe in protest, after which he was under restoration for a very long time. Surprisingly, almost all the works of the great artist have a difficult fate.
The military triumph of the Spanish monarchy
When Velazquez, when he was still his royal hofmeister, was engaged in decorating the interior of the next royal palace, Buen Retiro, he began work on a series of historical paintings designed to sing the military triumphs of the Spanish monarch. All works relate to the 1630s.
The work “Surrender of Breda” (1634-1635, Prado, Madrid) is perhaps the largest of all surviving. It depicts the solemn act of handing over the key to the besieged Dutch city of the victorious battle of the Spanish army on June 2, 1625, when Spain pacified its rebellious northern territories.
The key transfer episode itself is the compositional center of the picture, in which the great portrait painter incredibly accurately gave a psychological description of two famous military leaders. In forced servility, the commander of the Dutch garrison, Yusgiv Nassau, bowed with a dark key in his hand to the tall, thin Ambrosio Spinola, the Spanish commander. The back of the victorious noble gesture pats the defeated opponent on the shoulder. Both commanders are surrounded by their troops.
Only a few warriors remained behind Nassau, and they bowed their heads in despondency. Only a couple of reeds lonely rise above them. And behind them, black smoke rises to the sky from the conflagration, leaving to the right, thus diverting the viewer’s gaze to the Spanish army. Above the group of officers of Spinola stands a whole forest of slender copies. Their clear rhythm reinforces the impression of power and strength of the victorious army. The whole canvas looks very realistic, thanks to the carefully written spatial depth, both in the image of groups of warriors and in the landscape background.
The painter worked wonderfully on the texture of almost every costume of the participants in the canvas, standing in the foreground. Here is a whole gallery of portraits of the Spanish aristocracy of that time, ranging from the image of the commander Ambrosio Spinola, to whom the artist gave a noble chivalrous psychological description, and ending with his own sad self-portrait near the horse’s head. In contrast to the cold dignity of the triumphs, the defeated Dutch are depicted simply and large. Their natural postures are very true and human. Here, oddly enough, the author allowed himself sympathy for the losers. The Dutch provinces fought desperately for their independence, and when Velazquez created the picture, Brena was already repulsed by the Dutch. Even in this work some hidden irony is read,although it was intended to glorify the victories and valor of the Spanish monarchy.
Velazquez depicted in the right "Spanish" part of the picture perfectly painted horse croup, which, of course, is a symbol of the advantage and power of Spain. That’s just why the artist turned her back to the viewer? Despite all his devotion to Philip IV, the painter, as a smart man and well versed in politics, subtly expressed his opinion in the only way that was available to him - through the picture. I must admit, in this Velazquez was not equal among the painters of his era.
Portrait of the pope
In the late 1640s, Velazquez made his second trip to Italy. The official pretext for his visit was the acquisition of an antique sculpture and several masterpieces of Italian painting for the collection of Philip IV. But we must not forget that the artist was at the same time a high-ranking court official of his monarch, whose duties included establishing diplomatic relations with high-ranking officials of Italy. The painter coped well with both tasks, he was favorably received by the new Pope Innocent X in the Vatican, who immediately ordered his portrait for him. The result of the three-month work of the artist stunned the whole of Rome, not to mention the customer.
The canvas “Portrait of Pope Innocent X” (1650, Loria Pamphili Gallery, Rome) instantly gained the widest fame. Although this was not characteristic of that time, many copies were made from the painting. Such success was primarily associated with the achievement of an unusually high correspondence of the psychological portrait of the hero of the canvas.
Against the backdrop of a heavy raspberry curtain, in a red satin cap, an imperious pontiff sits on a gilded throne. The snow-white folds of the cassock, the silk of his scarlet mantle, and even the golden ring with a large dark stone adorning his right hand are very materially and necessarily.
Despite the comfortable position in the chair, the pose of Innocent X carries internal tension. This is noticeable in the slightly bent fingers on the arm of the throne and barely noticeable drops of sweat on the pope’s nose and forehead. Reflexes here are transmitted with great conviction. But the pontiff’s face is especially striking. His tightly compressed curved thin lips and a wide heavy chin with a liquid beard eloquently show secrecy and cruelty of character. A long nose indicates its noble origin. Deep-set eyes carefully and coldly look directly at the viewer. The glance of the head of the church reads arrogance, intelligence, insight and cunning.
As if by chance, the artist emphasizes the big ear of the pontiff, on which light falls. This insignificant detail unexpectedly tells the whole image of Innocent X the ordinary and prosaic. An authoritative, strong, and not without vicious passions, an elderly man in the clothes of the most senior dignitary of the church looks from the portrait. The most important thing that Velazquez conveyed to the viewer is that, for all its strengths and weaknesses, the Pope does not have the main thing - neither Christian mercy nor holiness.
Evidence of eyewitnesses has been preserved, which says that the pontiff, when he first saw his portrait, exclaimed: “Too true!” An educated, endowed with a sharp mind Innocent X could not help but recognize how brilliantly created this masterpiece. He solemnly awarded the artist a papal medal and a gold chain.
Velazquez himself immediately received many orders for portraits from other high-ranking dignitaries of the Vatican: from Monsignor Camillo Massimi to Cardinal Letali Pamfili. But the king urged the diplomat and painter to return. Therefore, Velazquez hastened to return to Madrid, where he already had many creative plans.
Allegory of an unfair lifestyle
One of the most amazing and symbolic paintings of Velazquez was the painting “Spinners” (the second name is “The Myth of Arachne”, circa 1657, Prado, Madrid). The canvas is divided into two compositional parts. In the foreground, in the gloom of a weaving workshop, spinners engaged in their hard work are depicted. In the center, a young worker, kneeling down on one knee, picks up skeins of wool from the floor. On the right side, the artist realistically and coarsely wrote out another spin, winding a woolen thread into a dense ball. Her broad back and large arms with rolled up sleeves express accuracy and confidence of movements. Nearby, another young woman watches her work. To their left, in a carelessly thrown shawl, a tired weaver sits near her wooden loom, talking to her assistant. At her bare feet a cat comfortably settled down. Behind the weaver’s helper,thanks to the heavy red curtain pushed back, we can see the finished tapestries folded in a stack. The whole scene is depicted in a manner characteristic of the artist - ordinary and unvarnished. The necessary dynamism to the picture is given by individual details - such as a rotating wheel of a machine tool or a spin of a leg thrown forward, as well as a rich color of the scene.
The second compositional part of the canvas is the background. There, as if on a stage flooded by the sun, two court ladies are pictured, carefully examining the carpets hanging on the wall. Probably the lady on the left is the mistress of the workshop, patiently awaiting the decision of a potential buyer. The bright patterned edging of the carpet, the solemn mythological scene depicted on it and its pure sonorous colors seem to turn the entire far part of the room into a fabulous solemn performance, in sharp contrast to the routine of the front of the picture.
Two different plans of the work are in a complex and at the same time direct interaction with each other. This is not just a contrast between hard work and its excellent result. Details are important here, namely the theme depicted on the finished tapestry being inspected by the customer. There we can see the ending of the ancient Roman legend about Arachne, which sets the correct interpretation of the whole work.
The mythological heroine was famous for the skill of the skilled spinner, who was proud of her abilities and for this was turned by the goddess Minerva into a terrible spider. Here lies not even irony, but rather the bitter regret of the great painter. That is why the face of the court lady has an undeniable portrait resemblance to a young worker standing in the right corner of the picture. The now-leading vertical staircase located on the left side of the picture, above the head of a weaver sitting behind a wooden loom, is designed to compositionally direct the viewer’s eyes from the bright distant plan back into the twilight of the workshop.
A round dull hood crowning the whole composition is very eloquent - despite the fact that, judging by the stream of bright light pouring from the left, there is already a large window in the back room. The meaning of the fringed black sphere placed by the painter above the whole picture is to symbolize the irreversible circle of human life. Neither hard work, nor outstanding talent can fix the situation once and for all: the skill of the simple girl Arachne cannot surpass the elite art of the goddess Minerva. It was not for nothing that Velazquez depicted on the tapestry not the moment of divine anger and the transformation of Arachne into an insect, but the triumph of the divine warrior.
This peculiar allegory, perhaps, has political notes. The plot can also be interpreted as the sad triumph of the Spanish monarchy, which can easily grind both an individual person and entire states, imagining himself above them. The work was not only the highest achievement of the artist’s art, but also an expression of his deep understanding of the injustice of the world order and an expression of sympathy for those lower in the hierarchy.
In 1656, the renowned painter creates a picture considered the crown of his work and one of the most mysterious paintings in the history of art - “Menins” (Prado, Madrid).
Translated from Spanish, “menin” is a young girl of noble birth, who is the constant maid of honor of the princess and always accompanies her in her retinue. According to the inventory of the royal palace, the canvas was listed as “Family Portrait”, but it is very difficult to call it “family”, as, indeed, “Menins” is a surprisingly inappropriate name for it.
The compositional center of the painting is the fragile little figure of the Infanta Margarita in a light beautiful dress. The girl stands with her head slightly turned and looks as if expectantly at the viewer. The young maid of honor Maria Sarmiento sank down on one knee in front of her, according to the requirements of etiquette, and serves a vessel with a drink. The maid of honor Isabella de Velasco froze in curtsy on the other hand. To the right of the wall are the permanent members of the suite of the Infanta Margarita - her jesters: dwarf Maria Barbola and young Nicholas Pertusato. The first - presses a toy to his chest, the second - pushes a large dog lying with his foot.
In the middle plan, we see a woman protruding from the twilight in a monastic robe - the mentor of Princess Marcelo de Ulloa, and the Guardamas - a permanent guard and accompanying infantry. In the open doorway in the background, Jose Nieto, a court nobleman, rises up the stairs. And on the left side of the canvas, near a huge canvas stretched on a stretcher, the artist portrayed himself. He holds a long brush in one hand and a palette in the other. The eyes of the painter, the princess, crouching in the curtsy of maid of honor, and dwarfs are fixed on the viewer. More precisely, on a couple of people reflected in a mirror on the opposite wall, which seems to be standing on this side of the picture - the royal couple of Philip IV and his wife Marianne of Austria.
For more than three centuries, art historians and biographers of the great painter have been trying to unravel the meaning of this strange multi-figure painting, in which the artist again used his favorite construction of the composition - “painting in painting”. Once again, the master reliably showed the life of the royal family and her courtiers. There is no official greatness, no ceremoniality, only a certain immediacy and sincerity in the guise of a princess gives the picture its sound. What did the artist want to say with this work? Why is the royal couple depicted only in obscure spots?
There are different versions, in their own way interpreting the plot of the work. According to one of them, Velazquez depicted the moment of a break during the creation of the portrait of the infant, when the royal couple looked into the studio and all the maids of honor rushed to his mistress.
According to another version, the artist created a portrait of precisely Philip IV and Marianne of Austria, interrupting his work due to the unexpectedly arrived princess and her retinue. There are hundreds of explanations and interpretations of the unusual composition of this amazing picture, but all of them, unfortunately, contradict each other and individual details on the canvas of the great master.
One of the mysterious moments is that Velazquez, standing in the picture in his own workshop, depicted all the windows of the room tightly curtained. On the ceiling, fixtures for chandeliers are clearly visible, but there are no chandeliers themselves, like no other light sources. From this, a large spacious room, hung with paintings by great masters, is plunged into darkness. But not a single painter will work in the dark. Judging by the location of the shadows on the canvas, the light comes from the conditional arrangement of the royal couple, and even the doorway in the background is flooded with sunbeams.
It turns out that in this way Velazquez shows us that he paints his brilliant paintings "in the darkness" of the royal palace. And despite his noble birth and the title of knight of the Order of Santiago, which is eloquently testified by the golden symbolism in the form of a cross on the jacket of his suit, he does not have the opportunity to "come out into the light." That is, the artist could only create “in the rays” of his monarch, or he would be forced to leave the royal palace and go nowhere. Perhaps it was this idea that the artist wanted to convey, portraying himself along with the retinue of the princess in the “Family Portrait” or “Meninas”.
Another eloquent symbol is a dog lying in the foreground of the picture. The image of a dog is an image of a faithful friend who will endure everything - you can kick him with a boot, he will still protect his master. Her image symbolizes the unsweetened fate of the court painter, a brilliant creator who could be something more than just a devoted servant of his master.
The art of Velazquez most deeply expressed the rapid flowering of realistic painting of the XVII century in Europe. True images created by a brilliant painter still serve as an unsurpassed example of perfection for true connoisseurs of art and artists of different generations.
In 1660, Velazquez went to the court of the French monarch to settle issues regarding the conclusion between the Spain and France of the "Iberian Peace", which ended the long-standing confrontation between the two countries. The essence of the artist’s mission, chosen by the trustee of the King of Spain, Philip IV, was to settle all the issues regarding the marriage between the eldest daughter of the king Maria Theresa and Louis XIV.
According to tradition, an event of this magnitude was required to be fixed with "blood ties." The artist not only wrote and delivered to Versailles the magnificent “Portrait of the Infanta Maria Theresa” (1652, Vienna Museum of Art and History), he also organized all the celebrations and receptions on this occasion, and even accompanied the royal motorcade to the wedding ceremony, which took place on the island Pheasants on the French-Spanish border.
And although Velazquez received many praises from Philip IV for his hard work, his strength and health were undermined. Returning to Madrid, the sixty-year-old painter felt a fit of fever. All the best court doctors gathered to save the beloved royal dignitary, but none of them could cure the master. On August 6, 1660, Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velazquez passed away.