Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Vélazquez was born in Seville in 1,599. It is considered that his artistic career began under the tutelage of Herrera "El Viejo" (the elder), with whom Velazquez stayed for a short period; and by 1,610, Velazquez was an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco. Seven years later, Velazquez will successfully passes the artist's guild exam and the following year he will marry Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his teacher and future admirer, who surrounded him with men of letters, making of his studio a place for thriving literary and philosophical discussions.
During this period of his life, Velazquez is greatly influenced by the dark paintings of the time, especially those of Rivera, showing an inclination towards naturalism. "La Vieja Friendo Huevos" (The Old Lady Frying Eggs) or "El Aguador" (The Waterer) are pieces from this time and show a vibrant realism, where the object seem to have a life of their own. In these paintings the problem of lighting begins to be considered, where Velazquez opts for a sinister and obscure style, much like the style of Caravaggio.
By 1,622, he travels to Madrid with his disciple and servant, Diego Mendrado. He visits El Escorial and meets the writer Luis de Gongora, of whom he paints a portrait.
The following year, and thanks to the Count-Duke Juan Fonseca, Velazquez travels once again to Madrid to paint a portrait of the Royal Family. In this trip, Velazquez paints a portrait for Fonseca and for Philip IV, who after the painting names the artist the Royal Chamber artist. While in the Court, he has the opportunity to study the royal collections of masterpieces, since the King was quite knowledgeable of the Italian art and a good collector of the same. Velazquez's art however earns him the rivalry of Madrid's painters, especially that of Carducho.
Velazquez guides Rubens through the royal collection of El Escorial in his visit to Spain in 1,628. Rubens greatly influences him so much so that Velazquez begins painting mythological scenes such as those of the "Borrachos (The Drunkards) and the Triumph of Baccus. By the following year, the artist travels to Italy, where he learns the rich chromatism of the Venetian school, and Velazquez abandons his gloomy tendencies. To this period belong the Tunic of Joseph and the Forge of Volcanus. Velazquez now begins to shift his attention from lighting to landscapes and the human body; his paintings become more uplifting and open, modern and luminous.
Upon his return of Madrid, he begins a prolific period of portraits in the court, where his style is being perfected. To this period belong The Surrender of Breda or The Lances, and the equestrian portraits of King Philip IV , the Count-Duke of Olivares, and of Prince Baltassar Charles; portraits of buffoons, and member of the court, such as Pablillos of Valladolid, and the Moron of Coria; as well as the paintings of classical mythology such as s Exopo and Mars.
BY 1,643, at the fall of Count-Duke of Olivares, which creates profound changes within the court, Velazquez is named to an administrative position, which creates an hiatus of his work. Six years later, he will return to Italy under the charge of King Philip IV to purchase more masterpieces. To this end , Velazquez visits Rome, Venetia, Naples, Modena, and Florence; places in which he is well received and admired. He paints the portrait of Pope Innocence X, and two small landscapes.
Two years later (1,651) Velazquez returns to Madrid maintaining his life of the court, to which he keeps adding to his library and collection of masterpieces. During the years of 1,656 and 1,658, Velazquez paints some of his most famous masterpieces: Venus of the Mirror, The Meninas, and "Las Hilanderas" (The Spinners).
Velazquez death in 1,660 (on the same day of Shakespeare's death), leaves a big void in Spanish artistry with no followers and no school to maintain his style. Velazquez belongs to the group of Sevillian artists, such as Alfonso Cano and Zurbarán, of the first generation of the baroque style of the 17th century. Moreover, his relations with some of the best artists of his time, allowed his art to transcend time and place, making him one of the master artist of the world.
Velazquez did not commit to one style, like his contemporaries, or theme; creating personal, religious, and mythical scenes in a wide variety of modes. He is a genius of the Spanish baroque, as well as European. His synthesis of the natural and the intellectual in the same painting are unique and free flowing; even Velazquez's sinister and gloomy masterpieces mix the scientific rationalism typical of the 17th century.
A new Meninas appeared. Velazquez painted another one which is in England. Read here about this.
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