Spain • 1599−1660

Biography and information

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (baptized on June 6, 1599, Seville, Spain – August 6, 1660, Madrid, Spain) was a Spanish painter, the leading one in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, an important 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).

He showed an early gift for art; he began to study under Francisco de Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the Italian influence of the early Seville school. Velázquez stayed a year with him, and it was probably from Herrera that he learned to use brushes with long bristles.

At the age of 12, he began a six-year apprenticeship with local painter Francisco Pacheco. His early paintings were of the traditional religious themes favored by his master, but he also became influenced by the naturalism of Italian master Caravaggio.

Velázquez set up his own studio after completing his apprenticeship in 1617. A year later, he married Pacheco's daughter, Juana. By 1621, the couple had two daughters.

In 1622, he moved to Madrid, where, thanks to his father-in-law's connections, he earned the chance to paint a portrait of the powerful Count-Duke of Olivares. The count-duke then recommended Velázquez's services to King Philip IV; upon seeing a completed portrait, the young king of Spain decided that no one else would paint him and appointed Velázquez one of his court painters.

The move to the royal court gave Velázquez access to a vast collection of works and brought him into contact with important artists such as Flemish baroque master Peter Paul Rubens. He had a high opinion of Velázquez, but he had no significant influence on his painting. He reinforced Velázquez's desire to see Italy and the works of the great Italian masters.

Velázquez traveled to Italy twice: from June 1629 to January 1631, when he was influenced by the region's great masters. The influence of contemporary Italian artists may be seen in his mastery of perspective and his rendering of the male nude. The second trip to Italy lasted from 1649 to 1651. During this time, he was given the opportunity to paint Pope Innocent X, producing a work that is considered among the finest portraits ever rendered.

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez's artwork was a model for the Realist and Impressionist masters. Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and Francis Bacon are among the artists who considered him a strong influence, while French Impressionist Édouard Manet described the Spanish great as "the painter of painters."

Attributes of work of the artist. The most admired—perhaps the greatest—European painter who ever lived, possessed a miraculous gift for conveying a sense of truth. He gave the best of his talents to painting portraits, which capture the appearance of reality through the seemingly effortless handling of sensuous paint. His early paintings were religious-themed, but he became renowned for his realistic, complex portraits as a member of King Philip IV's court.

Velázquez is known for using a rather limited palette, but he used to mix the available paints with great skill to achieve varying hues. His pigments were not significantly different from those of his contemporaries and he mainly employed azurite, smalt, vermilion, red lake, lead-tin-yellow and ochres.

Famous works of the artist

With «The Adoration of the Magi» (1619) and «Christ and the Pilgrims of Emmaus» (1626) the artist began to express his more accute and careful realism.

«Vulcan's Forge» (1630, Museo del Prado, Madrid) and «Joseph’s Coat Presented to Jacob» (1630, Escorial, Madrid) are among the best of his works.

In his final decade, Velázquez’s handling of paint became increasingly free and luminous. This late style can be seen in «María Teresa, Infanta of Spain» (1651–54), a portrait probably made for her future husband, Louis XIV of France—and the breathtakingly beautiful portrayal of the royal family, «Las Meninas» («The Ladies-in-Waiting») ( 1656). In this snapshot-like painting, two handmaidens dote on future empress Margarita Theresa while Velázquez peers from behind a large easel, ostensibly studying the king and queen, though his gaze meets the viewer's.

One of his final paintings was «The Spinners» (1657), representing the interior of the royal tapestry works. It is full of light, air and movement, featuring vibrant colors and careful handling. His final portraits of the royal children are among his finest artworks. These include «Infanta Margarita Teresa in a Blue Dress» (1659) and his only surviving «The Portrait of Prince Philip Prospero» (1659). The hope that was placed at that time in the sole heir to the Spanish crown is reflected in the depiction: fresh red and white stand in contrast to late autumnal, morbid colors. The master's personal style reached its high-point here.

Later Years

Velázquez returned to his portraiture after rejoining the Madrid court, his technique was more assured than ever then. In 1658, he was made a knight of Santiago. After being tasked with decoration responsibilities for the wedding of Maria Theresa and Louis XIV, Velázquez became ill. He died in Madrid on August 6, 1660.