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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez (1599 – 1660) was a Spanish painter, who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV, and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age.

Velázquez’s artwork from the first quarter of the nineteenth century was a model for the realist and impressionist painters, in particular, Édouard Manet. Many modern artists, including Picasso and Dalí, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

A Tour of Diego Velázquez’s Art

  • Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
    • “Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary” by Diego Velázquez depicts the interior of a kitchen with two women in the foreground to the left and in the background is a biblical scene, of the story of Martha and Mary, according to the Gospel of Luke 10:38–42. In the kitchen, the older woman on the left is directing the younger girl in the preparation of a meal. On the table are several foods, including fish, eggs, and garlic. Perhaps the ingredients of aioli with a garlic mayonnaise made to accompany fish. In the story of Martha and Mary, Christ goes to the house of a woman named Martha. Her sister, Mary, sat at his feet and listened to him speak. Martha, on the other hand, went to “make all the preparations that had to be made.” Upset that Mary did not help her, she complained to Christ to which he responded: “Martha, Martha, … you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Museum: The National Gallery, London
  • The Surrender of Breda
    • “The Surrender of Breda” by Diego Velázquez depicts a military victory in 1624 during the Eighty Years War. The Eighty Years’ War or “Dutch War of Independence” (1568–1648) was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. Velázquez shows the end of the “Siege of Breda,” which was one of Spain’s last significant victories in the Eighty Years’ War. Velázquez composed “The Surrender of Breda” into two halves, which included the Dutch leader Justinus van Nassau, on the left and Spanish Genoese general, Spinola on the right. He presents the Spanish as a potent force but also shows facial expressions of fatigue, providing a personal view of the reality to war. Museum: Prado Museum, Museo del Prado
  • The Triumph of Bacchus
    • “The Triumph of Bacchus” by Diego Velázquez depicts Bacchus surrounded by drunks. The work represents Bacchus as the god who rewards men with wine, releasing them from their problems. Bacchus was considered an allegory of the liberation of man from the slavery of daily life. Commissioned by King Philip IV, Velázquez had studied the king’s collection of Italian paintings and especially the treatment of mythological subjects. In this work, Velázquez adopted a realist treatment of a mythological subject, an approach he pursued during his career. Museum: Prado Museum, Museo del Prado
  • Las Meninas
    • “Las Meninas” or “The Ladies-in-Waiting” by Diego Velázquez is a complex and mysterious composition which, when it is studied it creates an ambiguous relationship between the audience and the various subjects in this painting. The complex arrangement of Las Meninas has made this painting one of the most analyzed masterpieces in Western art. “Las Meninas” depicts a room in The Royal Alcázar of Madrid, which was a fortress located at the site of today’s Royal Palace of Madrid, Madrid, Spain, during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain. The figures in the painting are all real historical members of the Spanish court. The young Infanta Margaret Theresa is in the center of her entourage of maids of honor, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs, and a dog. Infanta was the title for the daughter of the ruling monarch of Spain, especially the eldest daughter, who was not heir to the throne. Museum: Prado Museum, Museo del Prado
  • Portrait of Juan de Pareja
    • The Portrait of Juan by Diego Velázquez is a portrait of Velázquez’s enslaved assistant Juan de Pareja, who was owned by Velázquez at the time the painting was completed. Velázquez painted this portrait in Rome while he was traveling in Italy. It is the earliest known portrait of a Spanish man of African descent. Diego Velázquez, as the court painter to King Philip IV of Spain, was sent to Rome to purchase works of art for the King. Velázquez brought with him Juan de Pareja, who served as an assistant and who was of Moorish descent. De Pareja (1606 – 1670 ) was born into slavery in Spain, but he became an artist in his own right, and he was freed in 1650, close to the time of this painting. His 1661 work, The Calling of Saint Matthew, is on display at the Museo del Prado. Museum: Metropolitan Museum of Art – MET
  • Venus at her Mirror
    • “Venus at her Mirror” by Diego Velazquez depicts the goddess Venus in a sensual pose, lying on a bed and looking into a mirror held by Cupid. Painted by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, between 1647 and 1651, it is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. Nudes were extremely rare by seventeenth-century Spanish artists, who were policed by members of the Spanish Inquisition. Despite the Spanish Catholic church’s restrictions, nudes by foreign artists were keenly collected by the Spanish court nobles. This painting was also known by the titles of “The Rokeby Venus” and “The Toilet of Venus.” It was inspired by famous Italian works of the nude Venuses, which were the precedents for this work, which was painted during Velázquez’s visit to Italy. Velázquez combined two traditional compositions of Venus in this painting, the recumbent Venus and the Venus looking at herself in the mirror. Museum: The National Gallery, London

Diego Velázquez

A Tour of Artists and their Art

Reflections

  • What makes Diego Velázquez unique?
  • Why was his art a model for the realist and impressionist painters?

Diego Velazquez Quotes

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“I’ll never get tired of hearing your sweet words, but I will get tired of not.”

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“Raphael, to be plain with you, for I prefer to be candid and outspoken, does not please me at all. It is Titian that bears the banner.”

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“I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art.”

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“A human will only grasp the realm of a parent’s love when he experiences for himself the like.”

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“I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in the higher art.”
– Diego Velázquez

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Photo Credit: Diego Velázquez [Public domain]

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