Friday, June 6, 2008

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, the most admired—perhaps the greatest—European painter who ever lived, possessed a miraculous gift for conveying a sense of truth. He gave the best of his talents to painting portaits, which capture the appearance of reality through the seemingly effortless handling of sensuous paint.

Born in Seville, the son of a lawyer of Portuguese origin, he began a six-year apprenticeship in 1611 with the painter Francisco Pacheco, whose studio resembled an academy in which students—including Francisco de Zurbarán and Alonso Cano—learned the techniques of painting in an idealizing style grounded in Catholic propriety. But in early works such as The Supper at Emmaus, Velázquez abandoned Pacheco's old-fashioned style and painted directly from life. Influenced by the naturalism of Caravaggio, he portrayed Christ and two of his disciples with dramatic facial expressions, sharply lit against a plain background, the forms solidly modeled in somber colors. At this stage, Velázquez also specialized in kitchen scenes, or bodegones (literally, taverns), with religious scenes relegated to the background.

In the summer of 1623, Velázquez was summoned to Madrid to paint a portrait of the king (now lost, but it must have been similar to Philip IV (1605–1665), King of Spain of the following year); its success led to his being named official painter to the king. He remained attached to the court for the rest of his life, ascending in the hierarchy of court appointments, eventually receiving a knighthood. At Madrid, his art was profoundly influenced by Venetian paintings in the royal collection and by Peter Paul Rubens, who spent six months at the court on a diplomatic mission during which he painted royal portraits and copied the king's masterpieces by Titan.

From June 1629 to January 1631, Velázquez traveled in Italy. The influence of contemporary Italian artists may be seen in his mastery of perspective and his rendering of the male nude in the two large canvases he painted in Rome, The Forge of Vulcan (Museo del Prado, Madrid) and Joseph's Coat Presented to Jacob (Escorial, Madrid).

The portrait of Don Gaspar de Guzmán recalls the splendid equestrian portraits of individual members of the royal family that Velázquez painted in the 1630s. At the same time, he painted for the king unforgettable likenesses of court dwarfs and buffoons, capturing their inner suffering with dazzling brushwork and cool detachment.

In 1649–51, Velázquez made a second trip to Italy to collect works of art for the king, and the fresh exposure to classical antiquity resulted in masterworks such as Venus and Cupid ("The Rokeby Venus") (National Gallery, London). The portrait of his assistant, Juan de Pareja, caused a sensation when Velázquez exhibited it in Rome. Hanging alongside works by the best artists of the time, the portrait was acclaimed for its extraordinary lifelike quality. Of all the painters then in Rome, he alone was granted permission to paint the pope. Upon seeing Innocent X (Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome), one observer wrote that Velázquez had come to Italy "not to learn but to teach, for his Innocent X was the amazement of Rome. Every artist copied it and looked upon it as a miracle."

In his final decade, Velázquez's handling of paint became increasingly free and luminous. This late style can be seen in María Teresa (1638–1683), Infanta of Spain—a portrait probably made for her future husband, Louis XIV of France—and the breathtakingly beautiful portrayal of the royal family, Las Meninas (The Ladies-in-Waiting) (Prado). The artist stands to the left before an enormous canvas on which he is painting the king and queen, who are reflected in the mirror in the background, but the real subject of the picture is the little infanta who has come to watch Velázquez at work. She stands between two ladies-in-waiting, who coax her to behave, and two court dwarfs and a large dog, all rendered with astonishing freedom and truth to nature.

Because most of Velázquez's work was carried out for the king, it remained in palaces where few people saw it. Not until the upheavals caused by Napoleon's Peninsular War (1808–14) was some of his work dispersed throughout Northern Europe. In the nineteenth-century, his paintings made an enormous impact upon artists, and to the present day Velázquez is remembered as the painter's painter.

Diego Velázquez: The amazing Painter

When studying Art history we come across many beautiful styles. Mannerism and the Baroque style are two that are filled with incredibly strong use of light. The careful handling of brush stroke to create the sense of light and reflection is one task that is not simple. Among the painters of these two eras that have utilized and honed this skill, there are two which stand out as the leaders in their home countries. Agnolo Bronzino (1503-1572) was a brilliant Italian painter of the High mannerist style. Agnolo was court painter to Medici and created a large numbers of portraits and religious works. Studying under Jacopo Pontormo, Agnolo developed a keen eye for light and a fluid hand for color. Almost a century after Agnolo Bronzinoâs birth Spain was welcoming the arrival of Diego Velazquez (1599-1660). Velazquez was a student of Francisco Pacheco, who in a matter of time came to be his father-in-law. After Velazquezâs marriage at the age of 19, he moved to Madrid. There he obtained a position as court painter and worked on religious pieces, landscapes and portraits of the royal family of Phillip IV. Diego was a master realist that seemed to breath life into his subjects with few strokes of his brush.

One of Velazquez's works that show his subtle yet beautiful use of light and darks is the informal painting of his assistant Juan de Parreja. This work is noted as a truthful painting and one that has such a masterful touch that the sitter Juan de Parreja seems to breathe.

On examination of this work I question: Why would Velazquez do such a beautiful painting of his assistant? Needless to say Juan de Parreja, the sitter, appears to be of African American descent. Search as you may but portraits of this caliber with African American sitters are few. And the fact that this was an informal painting means Velazquez probably didnt charge Parreja, but if he did as an assistant it would be hard to believe that Parreja would be able to pay for such a work. Nonetheless the painting is here and examination of it reveals that Velazquez probably had a deep respect for his assistant. Juan de Parreja is shown seated and painted from his breast up. His right hand seems to be just below his chest, this pose of the hand may hold true to the assumption of Diego Velazquezâ respect. The hand on the chest symbolizes an attitude of one blessed with high wisdom and calm judgment. And the strong black that is shown throughout the whole painting may also represent a hidden wisdom found in this sitter that Velazquez may have been fond of.

Besides the hidden qualities of this painting the obvious hold a much more important significance. The subtle use of white on Parrejaâs face to create light and the even flow of rose in his cheeks is dramatically beautiful. Velazquez used such a sensational palette for Parrejas skin. You can tell Velazquez subtly echoed the green of Parrejas jacket in various spots along his face. Another beautifully rendered section of the painting is the white lace that is around Juanâs neck and shoulders. Velazques found a brilliant way to depict the texture of the material with very few strokes. Here he also echoes the greens and flesh tones within the inside collar and along the outer edge of the garment. Specifically the edge of the material is wonderfully painted. As I move my eyes down the painting I notice how the sleeve is worked. Although it is dark it seems like a few well place strokes give this portion of his portrait a wonderful “soft as downâ feeling. Although I believe this painting to be a great piece of art there are a couple of things I would have liked to have seen different. The hand that I referred to before has an almost swollen look to it. I believe Velazquez could have reworked it so as to show a little more defined bone structured areas. Along wth the hand I also believe that the background, although beautiful in its simplicity, is missing something. Perhaps something that would make the connection between Diego Velazquez and the sitter Juan de Parreja. But above that the minimum palette that was used successfully completed a work of art that will forever be adored.

Agnolo Bronzino on the other hand used a wider palette for his rendition of â Portrait of a young man. The subject whom is unknown is understood by the Metropolitan Museum to be someone perhaps in the literary circle Bronzino was associated with. Bronzino was known to be a poet and probably did this portrait for a close friend. The young man is shown holding a book, which is probably a collection of literary works. The book, shown slightly open may represent a truth that wants to be uncovered, maybe a secret that can be read while adoring this masterpiece. Held over a mysteriously plum painted table the book is wonderfully held in balance. The subject hands are beautifully done. The smallest detail in the knuckle shows the tension of grip and is easily understood.

As noted in a dictionary of symbols the doors in the background may represent a feminine attribute. Perhaps this is the secret that is being unraveled in the layout of the portrait. To further assess this as we look at the young mans lips we notice that he may be wearing some sort of lipstick or lip-gloss. Maybe this represents the young mans choice of lifestyle or perhaps it is a reference to the young mans great speech skills and poetic expression. The fact that the young man is wearing a hat and is in dark clothing may also represent a hiding of some sort. But to get away from the young mans sexual preference or his choice of life, we can focus our attention on the skill Bronzino employed. To examine the garment of the poser is to view exquisite art. The variation of hues used on the jacket especially around the ruffled sleeve are absolutely gorgeous. The shadows that run from the top of the young mans head to his thumbs, although a little harsh on the face, are of beautiful color and intensity. The beads of decoration on the posers hat are so well done they appear to be almost touchable at a distance.