The first painter of common things
Vel zquez's The Surrender of Breda is the most celebrated historical composition of the Spanish Baroque.
DIEGO RODRIGUEZ DE SILVA VELAZQUEZ (or Velásquez) was born in Seville, Spain. He was baptised on June 6, 1599. He was the eldest of six children and both his parents were minor nobility.
While he originally studied to become a lawyer like his father, he found his calling in the arts. Between 1611 and 1617, he apprenticed under Francisco Pacheco, a Mannerist painter. When he was 19, he married Pacheco's daughter.
In 1622, he made his first trip to Madrid, to try for a position as court painter. In 1623, he returned to Madrid and his painting of Philip IV resulted in him being chosen as the official painter to the king.
When Peter Paul Rubens visited Spain in 1628 on a diplomatic vision, he had met with Velázquez and inspired him to make a trip to Italy. Velázquez left for Italy in August 1629 and spent the next two years travelling and studying the works of Renaissance artists and his contemporaries. On his return, Velázquez was occupied with court matters and after being made the Marshal of Royal Household, his responsibilities increased.
In 1660 he organised the marriage of Infanta Maria Theresa with Louis IV of France. The elaborate affair drained him and he died of a fever on August 6 the same year. Velázquez's early period (1617 to 1623) can be further divided into three the kitchen pieces where figures are combined with still-life objects, the portraits and the religious works. For the religious works, Velázquez used models from the streets quite in the manner of Caravaggio for instance in his Adoration of the Magi, he used his family and included a self-portrait as well.
While in the 1620s, he devoted himself almost exclusively to portraiture, there are other paintings like The Surrender of Breda, which is considered the most celebrated historical composition of the Spanish Baroque for its delicacy and the range of emotions.
The 1630s were the time of Velázquez's hunting portraits. The last 20 years of his life produced masterpieces including the magnificent Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour), a group portrait of the royal family with Velázquez in the act of painting. Velázquez's ability to merge colour, light, space, rhythm of line and mass in a way that all have equal value earned him the sobriquet of "painter's painter".
For a man who said he would "rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art," Velázquez has left a rich legacy that artists like Francisco de Goya, Edouard Manet and James McNeill Whistler among others can be thankful for.
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