VELAZQUEZ (1599 - 1660)

 

        Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez was the greatest Spa­nish painter. Born in Seville, Velazquez studied with the local Mannerist Francisco Pacheco. In 1623 Velazquez was appointed court painter and settled permanently in Madrid. By 1627 he was established in the royal household and got the rank of court chamberlain. It gave him a residence attached to the palace and a studio inside it. For more than 30 years Velazquez painted King Philip IV and members of the royal family and court, pro­duced historical, mythological, and religious pictures. His pain­tings were influenced by Rubens and the Venetian artists.

         Velazquez never deserted the integrity of his own style. He did not adopt the characteristic devices of allegorical figures, co­lumns, curtains of boiling clouds utilized by most Catholic pain­ters of the seventeenth century. Velazquez was attached to na­ture.

        He visited Italy twice and expressed a frank dislike for Ra­phael and thus for the Italian idealism. Velazquez admired Ti­tian and copied Tintoretto as an exercise in freedom of the brush. Throughout his life Velazquez was deeply concerned with the principles of composition and design.

        When Caravaggesques realism penetrated Spain, it was felt by the young Velazquez as a liberation. Velazquez's interpretation of this movement was original. His Triumph of Bacchus, of about 1628, contains numerous reminiscences of Titian's Bac­chanal of the Andrians, reinterpreted in basically Caravaggesques terms. Bacchus is a rather soft Spanish youth, with a towel and  a cloak around his waist, as if he had just climbed out of a neighbouring stream. Crowned with wine leaves himself he mischievously puts a crown upon a kneeling worshiper, who is a simple Spanish peasant. Other peasants are gathered around. One peasant with bristling moustache and a hat pushed back hands a cup of wine toward a spectator, while another tries to grab it. The proletarian invitation to join in the delights of wine is painted with a brilliance unequalled by any other Latin painter of the seventeenth century. Yet the emphasis of the solidity of flesh and rough clothing shows that Velazquez is a Mediter­ranean painter.

         The Surrender of Breda, of 1635, is a magnificent painting. It is remarkable for its excellent equilibrium. The groups of Spa­nish victors and defeated Dutchmen are scrupulously equalized. The surrender is carried out with dignity unlike in the conven­tional representations of the glorification of the victors and the disgrace of the conquered.

         After the second trip to Italy (1649—51) Velazquez painted his most complex imaginary picture, based on the myth of Arachne, The Weavers, c. 1656. The central scene, the moment when Minerva turns Arachne, a mortal girl who challenged the goddess of spinning and weaving to contest, into a spider — is depicted in the background. In the foreground the weaver's workroom is produced so convincingly that in later centuries this painting was taken for a large genre scene. The emotion of the workshop, the spinning of the wheel, the handling of the tale as an ordinary event, make this painting one of the most out­standing of Velazquez's mythological works.

         Velazquez's masterpiece, and one of the most extraordinary paintings of the seventeenth century is Las Meninas (The La- dies-in-waiting), of 1656. It was initially titled The Portrait of the Family. The painter is depicted in his studio in the royal palace, at work upon a canvas, so large that it can only be this very picture, unique in scale in his entire production. In the centre the light falls on the glittering figure of the five-year-old princess, who has paid the painter a visit, accompanied by two ladies-in-waiting, one of whom kneels to give her a cup of water. On the right mo dwarfs are portrayed; one is gently teasing with his foot an elderly dog. Through the open door in the background wall light falls on a court official, pausing for a moment, on the steps. Most important of all the mirror along­side the door reflects the King and Queen, who also honour the painter with their presence. Despite the apparent ease and infor­mality of the subject, the picture is carefully balanced in a series of interlocking pyramids that can be ranked with the greatest designs of the Renaissance. In light and dark the illusion of the picture is as real as the intimate and quiet mood. Velazquez's brush suggests the reality of objects through the sparks and re­flections of light on hair, silk, flowers and embroidery, spots of light and colour set down by touches of the brush create the il­lusion of form. Las Meninas is the culmination of Velazquez's work. In this painting the artist demonstrates to all time the nobility of his art — a rank that no king can award.

       Velazquez had no immediate followers, but the painters of succeeding centuries such as Goya and Manet highly esteemed him.

 

 

Notes

Triumph of Bacchus —«Вакх»

Surrender of Breda —«Сдача Бреды»

The Weavers —«Пряхи»

Las Meninas— «Менины»

                                                    

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