Known as one of the giants of Western art, Spanish painter Diego Velazquez is arguably one of the greatest artists of all time and is considered the greatest Spanish baroque artist. He was a master of technique and possessed an individual style that is unsurpassed. It is said that this master produced the largest quantity of masterful works, many of which hang in museums around the world. Velazquez might have had the greatest influence on European art of any painter.
His paintings included religious, historical, and mythological subjects as well as landscapes, portraits, and scenes from everyday life. Velazquez was a realist painter, painting only what he saw. His understanding of his subjects produced in him the ability to paint his subjects in such a way that they seem to be alive.
Birth Year : 1599
Death Year : 1660
Country : Spain
Diego Velázquez, born in Seville, was of Portuguese descent. He may have studied with Herrara, the elder, but it is certain that he spent six years in Seville in the studio of a painter named Pacheco whose daughter he married in 1618. Until 1623, when he went to Madrid and became painter to the king, Velazquez’s work was Baroque in style, with heavy pigment and sharp contrasts that suited the tavern scenes and still lifes he painted. As court painter, however, he was principally a portraitist; and his style changed entirely, becoming lighter, clearer, and shallower in composition. After a trip to Italy in 1629, Velázquez, who had copied Renaissance paintings, abandoned Classicism entirely and began to use silvery tones and a wider range of color, painting in a manner that was not to be equaled in atmosphere, dramatic composition, use of light, and optical effects until the 19th century Impressionists. The interrelation of light, air, and color gives poetry to his portraits, which are otherwise quite impersonal in their presentation of the subjects, who seem alive upon the canvas entirely because of the artist’s skill and accurate eye.
Velázquez went to Italy again from 1649-1651 to collect the works of the old masters for the king. During this time, he did a magnificent portrait of Pope Innocent X. Upon his return to Madrid, Velázquez was made a Knight of the Order of Santiago and appointed Grand Marshall of the Palace. The artist had to devote much of his time to his royal duties and catering to the royal whims; overburdened by his courtly duties, he died of a fever in 1660. A master of the art of painting, Velázquez handled composition, color, light and space to perfection and was masterful at painting historical scenes, still lifes, interiors, and portraits of noblemen or peasants. His influence extended to such artists as Goya, Courbet, Manet, Eakins, and the Impressionists., His influence is still being felt today.
From the age of 11 to 16 Velazquez was apprenticed to Mannerist painter, Francisco Pacheco, where he learned much about Flemish and Italian realism. The few years following his apprenticeship, his art seemed to fall into three categories: bodegon, portraits, and religious scenes. His early works show realism that was influenced by Caravaggio with his use of sharp contrasts of light and dark and his use of heavy impasto. Velazquez learned from studying nature and showed a strong pull towards the naturalist style of painting. One of his early bodegones, the Water Seller of Seville, shows brilliant use of light and shadow and shows off his observant eye and realistic use of naturalism.
Velazquez travelled to Madrid where he painted a portrait of King Philip IV. This portrait resulted in the King becoming Velazquez’s patron and Velazquez serving as the King’s official court painter. As court painter he had access to the royal collections of art, which included works by the master, Titan. Titan’s influence on Velazquez’s style is evident. His portraits from this time period portray figures in which the face and hands are accentuated and the dark figures are prominent against a neutral background.
Velazquez spent much of his time as court painter painting portraits of court nobles. Peter Paul Rubens visited Madrid and Velazquez was appointed to be his guide. Rubens may not have greatly influenced Velazquez’s style, however, he did pique his interest in Venetian paintings and encouraged him to expand his themes. Following Rubens visit Velazquez did take two trips to Italy in order to purchase works for the king’s collections. His style developed even further as he spent time studying Italian art. One of the paintings that he created during his trip, Joseph and His Brothers, shows the sculptural styles of Michelangelo as well as the light and shadow techniques of many of the Italian masters. During his second trip to Italy, Velazquez painted a portrait of Pope Innocent X which won him much acclaim in Italy. He painted with eloquent technique and nearly invisible brushstrokes beyond that seen in any works of Titan.
It seems that Velazquez did not prepare sketches before putting paint to canvas. Instead he let the picture form on the canvas as he worked. We can see changes made during painting, or which were made at a later time, in slight changes to hand, and arm positions. As Velazquez’s techniques grew his brushstrokes became more impressionistic and he simplified the compositions by toning down the use of chiaroscuro.
Some of Velazquez’s most famous works are The Surrender of Breda, The Maids of Honor, Pope Innocent X, and Infanta Maria Thereasa.