This is just a very brief intro for Diego Velazquez. I summarized a lot of his life, and if you wanted to learn more about the paintings, then you should take an Art History class!
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈdjeɣo roˈðriɣeθ de ˈsilba i βeˈlaθkeθ]; baptised 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). – Wikipedia
The 16th Century had quite a few prevalent and famous master artists at the time. One of which was Peter Paul Rubens, who was famous all throughout Europe, this was a time when the Netherlands was flourishing as a primarily a merchant country. On the other hand is Diego Velazquez, was not nearly as famous as outside of his country like Rubens was. He was much more calm in his paintings and painted more about realism and a straightforward style.
Edouard Monet called him the “painter of painters,” meaning he appealed to the eye more than to the literary mind.
The Impressionists elevated him to an “artistic pantheon” and the pioneer of modernity.
He was born in Seville to lesser noble parents. He began studying at 12, but left his first teacher probably due to his hot-temper and began studying with Francisco Pacheco. Pacheco wasn’t particularly good at painting, but he was very well-versed in art theory and had many connections. Which does go to show that networking was also an important thing to do even as it is now — that is, other than skill! Skill and sociability gets you far in this world.
Spain was also greatly influenced by the art of Caravaggio, who painted plenty of Christian themed, and salvation scenes; he allowed the lower class, with their course hands and ragged clothing to be a part of those scenes (he used the people around him as models for his paintings). He painted wrinkles and signs of age on the saints, which created much outrage from his Christian/Church patrons who commissioned these pieces.
In a sense, Velazquez started off painting the lower class as his subject matter. Another of his more famous paintings on this is The Waterseller, which I didn’t scan in, but its easy to find on the web. Much mastery is shown in this particular painting from the details of the old man and the glass chalice he is holding.
When he was appointed court painter in 1623 in Madrid, his main duty was to paint portraits of Philip IV, which he of course did awesomely
Another quite famous painting is The Surrender of Breda, which helped to depicted the negotiation of the end of the Thirty Years War. Apparently, it was considered an “honorable surender” for Justinus of Nassou and his soldiers (dude on the left, who’s caption should be like, ‘oh, I’m so embarassed for being such a loser, here’s the key to my house and treasures’), and a settlement was conducted between them, that was supposedly generous during the time. This picture is more like propaganda, bringing to light just how generous Spain is! He also included a self-portrait of himself on the very far right of the painting.
If you look closely, you can actually see some of the transparency of his paint, and his stroke-work.
He later painted the Pope Innocent X in 1650. At first the Pope did not like it, because it looked too real, but it later grew on him.
Apparently, the court jesters/buffoons (in Spanish: truhanes) are very high-salaried. Velazquez, who first entered as a court painter, was classified with the royal servants. The dwarfs who acted as living toys for the young prince and princesses were classified with ‘normal stature.’
I specifically remember this picture because in high school, I’d read a book called Juan de Pareja about a young, black painter who wanted to aspire to be like his master. We go through his life from pre-slavery, and is later bought by Velazquez, who treats him as an equal. In the ending, Pareja goes through some anxiety because he paints an African-American skinned-toned Madonna depiction, but Velazquez praises his painting and says its okay to interpret Christian themes however way you want. It was an interesting book. There were many times where it put me to sleep though.
An altarpiece painting for the queen for her oratory in Alcazar, Madrid.
Las Meninas (The Royal Family) is one of Velazquez’s greatest masterpieces. The painting was created in 1656-1657 and depicts the entire court family, with the Infanta Margarita and her servants at the foreground, the court marshall is the man on the stairs. At this point, Velazquez is pretty well established as a part of the Royal family, being honorable portraying himself in the same painting. You can spot the pictures of the king and queen in a small frame by the door. Some historians wonder what is on the other side of the canvas that Velazquez paints…. It’s almost like we are looking through a mirror, which is interesting because almost everyone is looking back at the viewer and makes the painting quite engaging. Impressionists say that the picture is only a moment in time, a scene from ordinary palace-life.
Apparently, Velazquez had only one wife, one friend — King Philip IV, and one studio, the palace. He had a secret passageway that he and his assistants used that connected him from his home to the inside of the palace. That is pretty cool.
Velazquez is later knighted and admitted into the Order of Santiago, the red cross emblem was not added to the painting until 1659. He dies in court in 1660. Unfortunately, the royal palace in Madrid is destroyed by fire and much of his works are badly damaged or destroyed in 1734…