Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez was born in 1599 in Seville, the first child of Juan Rodriguez de Silva and Jeronima Velázquez. Showing an early gift for art, Velázquez started his apprenticeship with Francisco de Herrera, but a short while later (in 1611) his father put him with Francisco Pacheco, who had good contacts in the royal court, among poets and artists. Velázquez remained in Pacheco’s school for five years, studying proportion and perspective. On April 23, 1618, Velázquez married Pacheco’s daughter – Juana Pacheco, who bore his 2 daughters, of whom unfortunately only one, Francisca, survived.
The first portraits and religious compositions executed by Velázquez in Seville before 1622 include: Old Woman Frying Eggs, Three Men at Table, The Waterseller in Seville, Mother Jeronima de la Fuente, The Adoration of the Magi. In 1622, Velázquez visited Madrid for the first time to see its art treasures, and to make useful contacts; then he went to Toledo to see works by El Greco and other painters of that city.
When the king’s favorite court painter dies, the powerful Prime Minister, Count-Duke of Olivares, offers this position to Diego Velázquez. When he completes the portrait of king Philip IV, both the king and Olivares are pleased. Diego Velázquez gets the job of court painter, becomes the only artist permitted to paint the king and moves to Madrid. Unfortunately, many of king’s portraits are lost. However, The Museo del Prado has two of Velázquez’s portraits of the king (nos. 1070 and 1071).
In 1628, Peter Paul Rubens came to the court in Madrid on diplomatic business. They became friends and Rubens persuaded Velázquez to go to Italy. During his first trip to Italy (1629-30), Velázquez visited Genoa, Venice (where he saw the work of Titian, who effected him more strongly than any other artist), Florence, and Rome. He copied old masters, but also painted large compositions of his own paintings: The Forge of Vulcan and Joseph’s Bloody Coat to Jacob.
During his second visit to Rome (1649-1651) Velázquez, among other pictures, painted the famous portrait of Pope Innocent X. The Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon found Velázquez’s portrait of Pope Innocent X to be one of the greatest portraits ever made. He created several expressionist variations of this painting in the 1950s. In 1650 Velázquez also painted a portrait of his servant. Now this painting is in the Metropilitan Museum of Art in New York City.
As an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, Diego Velázquez was important as a portrait artist. One of his most significant work, Las Meninas, was created four years before his death. It serves as an outstanding example of the European baroque period of art. The question which interests most of viewers is who indeed is a subject of the painting. Is it the royal daughter, or perhaps the painter himself? In looking at the various viewpoints of the painting it is unclear as to who or what is the true subject. Maybe the King and Queen are they the subject of Velazquez’s work. We will never know…La Venus del espejo (English: Venus at the Mirror) is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez.
Velázquez felt strong enough to be himself and develop his own principles of art. He is often considered a father of the Spanish school of art. His baroque academic style was admired by many painters. Pablo Picasso recreated Las Meninas in 58 variations, in his characteristically cubist form. Salvador Dalí, as with Picasso in anticipation of the tercentennial of Velázquez’s death, created in 1958 a work entitled Velázquez Painting the Infanta Margarita With the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory.
The great Spanish painter Diego Velázquez died in the palace in Madrid on August 6, 1660.