Spanish painter Diego Velazquez was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and a great Baroque painter in the 17th century. Best known for his portraits of the Spanish royal family and other notable European figures, he was referred to as “the painter’s painter”. His magnificent paintings were infused with colorful warmth.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva Velasquez was born June 6th, 1599 in Seville, Spain. His father, Juan Rodriguez de Silva, was a lawyer of noble Portuguese descent. He originally studied philosophy and language in order to become a lawyer like his father, but his talent for art could not be denied. He became a student under Francisco de Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the Italian influence of the early Seville school. At eleven years old, Diego became apprentice to Francisco Pacheco, a Sevillian Mannerist painter who taught him for five years the notions of proportion and perspective influenced by Flemish and Italian realism. Diego fell in love with Pacheco's daughter Juana, and the two were married in 1618. She bore him two daughters Francisca, and Ignacia who died in infancy.
The artist’s early paintings depicted everyday subjects that included detailed works of peasant life, as portrayed in ‘The Meal’ (1617). His finest painting from this period was ‘The Water-seller of Seville’ (1620).
In 1622, Diego Velazquez replaced the deceased Rodrigo de Villandrando, the King's favorite court painter. The King funded his move to Madrid and proclaimed that no other artist but Diego would paint the royal family. Consequently, throughout the late 1620s, he dedicated most of his efforts to portraiture.
In August 1629, Diego Velazquez left Barcelona for Genoa and spent most of the next two years traveling through Italy. From Genoa he proceeded to Milan, Venice, Florence, Rome and Naples, returning to Spain in January 1631. In the course of his journey, he closely studied both Renaissance art and contemporaneous painting. Upon his return to Madrid, he resumed his duties as court portraitist. The painting ‘Prince Baltasar Carlos with a Dwarf (1631) portrayed the young prince who died before reaching adulthood.
Velazquez was eventually made marshal of the royal household, responsible for the royal quarters and for planning ceremonies. In 1634, he organized the decoration of the throne room in the new royal palace of Buen Retiro. His contribution, ‘Surrender of Breda’ (1634), was one of the most celebrated historical compositions of Spanish Baroque art. During this period, he also created historical and religious works such as ‘Christ on The Cross’ (1638), ‘Immaculate Conception’ (1644), and ‘SS Anthony and Paul’ (late 1630s). The second major series of paintings of the 1630s was a group of hunting portraits of the royal family for the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge near Madrid.
During the latter part of his life, Velazquez painted some of his most popular portraits, namely ‘Juan de Pareja’ and ‘Pope Innocent X’. He was admitted into Rome's Academy of St Luke. The key works of the last two decades of his life are ‘Fable of Arachne’ (1644-1648), and ‘Las Meninas’ (The Maids of Honour, 1656), a magnificent group portrait of the royal family that included the artist in the act of painting.
In 1660, Diego Velazquez was commissioned to decorate the Spanish pavilion for the marriage of the Infanta Maria Theresa to Louis XIV. However, he contracted a fever that ended his life on August 6th of that year. Within eight days after his death, his wife Juana suffered the same fate.