Pope Innocent X (the Tenth) 1650
oil on canvas
Oil on canvas, 141 x 119 cm
Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome
|Form: First and foremost Velázquez is a portrait
painter who demonstrates his ability to capture the likeness of his sitters.
One can see that he does this by looking at the range of portraits of King
Philip and how the likeness of his faces are consistent throughout his
This portrait demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as chiaroscuro although in his portraits he tend to use more frontal lighting. His brushstrokes are visible in this painting and the paint is laid in thick impastos. Velázquez is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that look almost unfinished when viewed up close. The calligraphic brushwork is also a type of conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) often referred to as a bravura handling of paint or bravura brushstrokes. Velázquez also has a fine command of painting drapery.
"He was tall in stature, thin, choleric, splenetic, with a red face, bald in front with thick eyebrows bent above the nose [...], that revealed his severity and harshness...". These were the words used by Giacinto Gigli in 1655 to describe the pope (Giovanni Battista Pamphilj [1574-1655], made a cardinal in 1629 and elected to the throne on September 16, 1644), adding that "his face was the most deformed ever born among men." Justi and later Morelli considered his head "the most repugnant... of all the Fisherman's successors" and "insignificant, indeed vulgar," with an expression similar to "that of a cunning lawyer." And yet this ugly and sullen man was paradoxically the subject of one of the most admired portraits of the seventeenth century, and perhaps of all time.
The portrait of Pope Innocent X is by common consent one of the world's supreme masterpieces of portraiture, unsurpassed in its breathtaking handling of paint and so incisive in characterization that the pope himself said the picture was 'troppo vero' (too truthful).
According to the Brittanica,
This portrait, which has long been Velázquez' most famous painting outside Spain, was copied innumerable times and won him immediate and lasting renown in Italy. In 1650 he was made a member of the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of St. Luke) and of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, Rome's two most prestigious organizations of artists. The portrait earned for him the Pope's support for his application for membership of the most exclusive Spanish military order, though the difficulties arising from the fact that he was not of noble birth were so great that he did not receive the habit of the Order of Santiago until 1659.
"Second Italian journey." Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. December 26, 2002
oil on canvas 42"x31.75" Wellington Museum London Spanish Baroque
This genre scene/portrait incorporates a low key or earth toned palette
combined with a very close point of view. Velázquez demonstrates
a good mastery of the human face as well as chiaroscuro
. He also uses an intense spotlight on the faces and clothing creating
hard edges where the contours of the figures meet the dark background while
the shadowed sides of the figures seem to merge with the background.
The brushstrokes are more visible in this painting and the paint is laid
in thick impastos. Velázquez
is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that
look almost unfinished when viewed up close. The calligraphic brushwork
is also a type of
conceit or concetto (italian for conceit)
often referred to as a bravura handling
of paint or bravura brushstrokes. The clear vessel of water,
as in Caravaggio's
Boy Being Bitten by a Lizard,
is a concetto because painting a transparent vessel is one
of the harder things to paint. Velázquez also has a fine command
of painting drapery.
Velázquez is really quite masterful in his depiction chiaroscuro and understanding of the physics of light. Compare the clay vessels to the chiaroscuro sphere and you will see this. He also uses light to establish a rhythm in which the figure of the water seller in the foreground is the most brightly lit and as the figures recede into the background the light diminishes.
The figures and the vessels in this painting are placed in such a way that they echo the light which rakes in from the upper left hand corner and this compliments the strong diagonal across the picture plane. The use of a diagonal in the composition of the picture plane is a very Baroque device.
Iconography: Water sellers in Italy and Spain were people who would carry water around in clay jugs that would filter the water and provide it with some flavor. Since water was at times a little ways away to a fountain the water seller served a convenience almost similar to our modern day paper boys or itinerant window washers. This painting is a genre scene that is not just a snapshot of daily life but also meant as kind of memento mori because the water seller is providing a momentary pleasure and a reminder of one's place in the cosmic scheme of things. The water seller with his humble occupation as a kind of upscale beggar allows us to give charity and therefore satisfy some of the basic tenets of Christianity.
Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9'
Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Form: First and foremost this painting is a portrait and Velázquez demonstrates his ability to capture the likeness of his sitters. One can see that he does this by looking at the range of portraits of Margarita and how the likenesses of her faces are consistent throughout his images.
This massive oil painting contains life size figures. Velázquez clearly demonstrates that he has a command on all the technical tricks and gimmicks that have been developed in the last 300 years of painting. He a mastery over portraiture, perspective, chiaroscuro, tenebrism, demonstrates the depiction of human anatomy and drapery. All this and he goes a bit beyond it with some tricks concerning the mirror in the background and the placement of the figures in the picture plane.
The brushstrokes are more visible in this painting and the paint is laid in thick impastos. Velázquez is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that look almost unfinished when viewed up close. The calligraphic brushwork is also a type of conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) often referred to as a bravura handling of paint or bravura brushstrokes.
If you look in the far background you can see that there appears to be a painting of a man and a woman. This is the King and Queen however, it is not a painting. Notice that it's glowing a bit. That's because it is really supposed to be a mirror.
This computer image pulls the mirror image out and shows you what the King and Queen may have been posing like.
What Velázquez was doing was demonstrating his ability to think about form, content, and visual illusion in one continuous manner. The scene that Velázquez is really painting is what the King and Queen see as they pose for their portrait. The image on the right shows how that works.
Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9' Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
|(The following text is from Kenneth Clark,
"Looking at Pictures")
"Our first feeling is of being there. We are standing just to the right of the King and Queen, whose reflections we can see in the distant mirror, looking down an austere room in the Alcazar (hung with del Mazo's copies of Rubens) and watching a familiar situation. The Infanta Dona Margarita doesn't want to pose. She has been painted by Velázquez ever since she could stand. She is now five years old, and she has had enough. But this is to be something different; an enormous picture, so big that it stands on the floor, in which she is going to appear with her parents; and somehow the Infanta must be persuaded. Her ladies-in-waiting, known by the Portuguese name of meninas, are doing their best to cajole her, and have brought her dwarfs, Maribarbola and Nicolasito, to amuse her. But in fact they alarm her almost as much as they alarm us, and it will be some time before the sitting can take place. So far as we know, the huge official portrait was never painted.
"It seems almost vulgar to ask what he was like, he so carefully effaced himself behind his works; and in fact it is chiefly from them that we must deduce his character. Like Titian, he shows no signs of impulsiveness or non-conformity, and like Titian, his life was apparently one of unbroken success. But there the likeness ends. He lives at a different temperature. We read of no passions, no appetites, no human failings; and equally there are no sensuous images burning in the back of his mind. When he was quite a young man he achieved once or twice a poetic intensity of vision, as in his Immaculate Conception, but this passed, as it so often does; or perhaps I should say that it was absorbed into his pursuit of the whole.
"He was born in 1599, and commended himself to the King as early as 1623. Thenceforward he rose steadily in the Court service. His all-powerful patron, the Count-Duke of Olivares, was dismissed in 1643, and in the same year Velázquez was promoted to be a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, an Assistant Superintendent of Works and, in 1658, to the horror of the official classes, he was invested with the Order of Santiago. Two years later he died. There is evidence that the royal family regarded him as a friend, yet we read of none of the cabals and jealousies which distorted the lives of Italian painters of the same date. Modesty and sweetness of character would not have been enough to protect him. He must have been a man of remarkable judgement. His mind was occupied almost entirely with problems of painting, and in this, too, he was fortunate, for he had formed a clear idea of what he wanted to do. It was extremely difficult, it took him thirty years of steady work;, and in the end he achieved it.
"His aim was simply to tell the whole truth about a complete visual impression. Italian theorists, following antiquity, had claimed that this was the end of art as early as the fifteenth century; but they had never really believed it; in fact, they had always qualified it by talking about grace, grandeur, correct proportions and other abstract concepts. Consciously or unconsciously they all believed in the Ideal, and thought that art must bring to perfection what nature had left in the raw. This is one of the most defensible theories of aesthetics ever proposed, but it had no appeal to the Spanish mind. 'History', said Cervantes, 'is something sacred because it is true, and where truth is, God is, truth being an aspect of divinity.' Velázquez recognised the value of ideal art. He bought antiquities for the royal collection, he copied Titian, he was the friend of Rubens. But none of this deflected him from his aim, to tell the whole truth about what he saw.
"To some extent this was a technical problem. It is not very difficult to paint a small inanimate object so that it seems real. But when one begins to paint a figure in its setting 'Oh alors!' as Degas said. And to paint a whole group on a large scale in such a way that no one seems too prominent, each is easily related to the other, and all breathe the same air: that requires a most unusual gift.
"As we look about us, our eyes proceed from point to point, and whenever they come to rest they are focussed in the centre of an oval pool of colour which grows vaguer and more distorted towards the perimeter. Each focal point involves us in a new set of relations; and to paint a complex group like the Meninas, the painter must carry in his head a single consistent scale of relations which he can apply throughout. He may use all kinds of devices to help him do this - perspective is one of them - but ultimately the truth about a complete visual impression depends on one thing, truth of tone. Drawing may be summary, colour drab, but if the relations of tone are true, the picture will hold. For some reason truth of tone cannot be achieved by trial and error, but seems to be an intuitive - almost a physical - endowment, like absolute pitch in music; and gives, when we perceive it, a pure and timeless pleasure.
"Velázquez had this endowment in the highest degree. Every day I look at Las Meninas I find myself exclaiming with delight as I recognize the absolute rightness of some passage of tone, the grey skirt of the standing menina, the green skirt of her kneeling companion, the window recess on the right, which is exactly like a Vermeer of the same date, and above all, the painter himself, in his modest, yet confident, penumbra. Only one figure makes me uneasy, the humble-looking attendant (known as a guardadamas) behind Maribarbola, who looks transparent; but I think he has suffered from some early restoration; and so has the head of the standing menina, Dona Isabel de Velasco, where the shadows are a little too black. Otherwise everything falls into place like a theorem in Euclid, and wherever we look the whole complex of relations is maintained.
"One should be content to accept it without question, but one cannot look for long at Las Meninas without wanting to find out how it is done. I remember that when it hung in Geneva in 1939 I used to go very early in the morning, before the gallery was open, and try to stalk it, as if it really were alive. (This is impossible in the Prado, where the hushed and darkened room in which it hangs is never empty.) I would start from as far away as I could, when the illusion was complete, and come gradually nearer, until suddenly what had been a hand, and a ribbon, and a piece of velvet, dissolved into a salad of beautiful brush strokes. I thought I might learn something if I could catch the moment at which this transformation took place, but it proved to be as elusive as the moment between waking and sleeping.
"Prosaically minded people, from Palomino onwards, have asserted that Velázquez must have used exceptionally long brushes, but the brushes he holds in the Meninas are of normal length, and he also carries a mahlstick, which implies that he put on the last delicate touches from very close to. The fact is that, like all transformations in art, it was not achieved by a technical trick, which can be found out and described, but by a flash of imaginative perception. At the moment when Velázquez' brush turned appearances into paint, he was performing an act of faith which involved his whole being.
"Velázquez himself would have repudiated such a high-flown interpretation. At most he would have said that it was his duty to satisfy his royal master with a correct record. He might have gone on to say that in his youth he had been able to paint single heads accurately enough in the Roman manner, but that they seemed to him lacking in life. Later he had learnt from the Venetians how to give to his figures the appearance of flesh and blood, but they did not seem to be surrounded by air. Finally, he had found a means of doing this too, by broader strokes of the brush, but how precisely this came about he could not tell.
"This is usually the way in which good painters speak about their work. But after two centuries of aesthetic philosophy we cannot leave it at that. No reasonable person can still believe that imitation is the end of art. To do so is like saying that the writing of history consists in recording all the known facts. Every creative activity of the human race depends on selection, and selection implies both a power to perceive relationships and the existence of a pre-established pattern in the mind. Nor is this activity peculiar to the artist, scientist or historian. We measure, we match colours, we tell stories. All through the day we are committed to low-grade aesthetic activities.
"We are being abstract artists when we arrange our hair brushes, impressionists when we are suddenly charmed by a lilac shadow, and portrait-painters when we see a revelation of character in the shape of a jaw. All these responses are wholly inexplicable and remain unrelated until a great artist unites and perpetuates them, and makes them convey his own sense of order.
Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9' Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
"With these speculations in mind I return to the Meninas and it occurs to me what an extraordinarily personal selection of the facts Velázquez has made. That he has chosen to present this selection as a normal optical impression may have misled his contemporaries, but should not mislead us. There is, to begin with, the arrangement of the forms in space, that most revealing and personal expression of our sense of order; and then there is the interplay of their glances, which creates a different network of relationships. Finally there are the characters themselves. Their disposition, which seems so natural, is really very peculiar. It is true that the Infanta dominates the scene, both by her dignity for she has already the air of one who is habitually obeyed and by the exquisite beauty of her pale gold hair. But after looking at her, one's eye passes immediately to the square, sullen countenance of her dwarf, Maribarbola, and to her dog, brooding and detached, like some saturnine philosopher. These are in the first plane of reality. And who are in the last? The King and Queen, reduced to reflections in a shadowy mirror. To his royal master this may have seemed no more than the record of a scene which had taken his fancy. But must we suppose that Velázquez was unconscious of what he was doing when he so drastically reversed the accepted scale of values?
"As I stand in the big Velázquez room of the Prado I am almost oppressed by his uncanny awareness of human character. It makes me feel like those spiritualistic mediums who complain that they are being disturbed by 'presences'. Maribarbola is such a disturbing element. While the other protagonists in the Meninas, out of sheer good manners, take their parts in a sort of tableau vivant, she affronts the spectator like a blow from a muffled fist; and I remember the strange and poignant relationship which Velázquez had with all the dwarfs and buffoons whom he painted. No doubt it was part of his duties to record the likenesses of these Court favourites, but in the main Velázquez room of the Prado there are as many portraits of buffoons as there are of the royal family (nine of each). Surely that goes beyond official instructions and expresses a strong personal preference. Some of his reasons may have been purely pictorial. Buffoons could be made to sit still longer than royal persons, and he could look more intensely at their heads. But was there not also the feeling that their physical humiliations gave them a reality which his royal sitters lacked ? Take away the carapace of their great position, and how pink and featureless the King and Queen become, like prawns without their shells. They cannot look at us with the deep questioning gaze of Sebastian de Morra or the fierce sullen independence of Maribarbola. And I begin to reflect on what would happen to Las Meninas if Maribarbola had been removed and a graceful young lady of the Court put in her place. We should still feel that we were there; the colour would be as subtle, the tone as scrupulously correct. But the temperature would have dropped: we should have lost a whole dimension of truth."
also called "The Topers" and "The Rule of Bacchus"
1628 Oil on canvas 5'6''x7'6''
Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
|Form: Velázquez is one of those artists
who does it all. In this image he incorporates genre
scene elements with his skills as a portrait painter.
Iconography: The iconography of this painting is reference to classical arcadian ideas although image is "classical" it seems to me to be an almost sarcastic or moralizing way in which to depict it. This painting seems almost to be a warning against hedonism.
The theme this story that this painting portrays is a bacchanal.
According to Webster's,
bac.cha.na.lia n, pl bacchanalia [L, fr. Bacchus] (1591) 1 pl, cap: a Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry 2: orgy 2, 3 -- bac.cha.na.lian adj or nContext: This painting also demonstrates that Velázquez was a "Renaissance Man" in his familiarity with classical mythology and his ability to play with those themes.
"Velázquez painted this picture of Bacchus surrounded by eight drinkers for Philipp IV who hung it in his summer bedroom. The painting is not only unique in his oeuvre, but is very rare indeed in Spanish painting as a whole, which does not generally have the drinking scenes so familiar in Flemish and Netherlandish painting. Drunkenness was regarded in Spain as a contemptible vice and "borracho" (drunkard) was the most scathing of insults. At the royal court, it seems to have been considered highly entertaining to invite low-lifers from the comedy theatres and inebriate them for the amusement of the ladies. But what kind of a Wine God is this we see, crowning his followers with ivy, said to cool the heat of wine, and consorting with peasants who grin out of the painting and clearly find the spectator, that is to say the king, a very funny sight indeed? The authority of the god whose presence delights them lends them a sense of majesty as well. And in view of the delightful travesty of royal honours in which Bacchus is indulging, they too have turned the tables and are laughing in the faces of those who would laugh at them. Is this Bacchus merely a myth born of wine, an embodiment of those lowly joys which the nobleman snubs? Or is the god a courtier having precisely the kind of fun at which the ladies liked to laugh? As only Caravaggio before him, Velázquez has portrayed Bacchus (or rather Dionysos) as the God of the mask, the theatre and disguise."
apoc.ry.pha n pl but sing or pl in constr [ML, fr. LL, neut. pl. of apocryphus secret, not canonical, fr. Gk apokryphos obscure, fr. apokryptein to hide away, fr. apo- + kryptein to hide--more at crypt] (14c) 1: writings or statements of dubious authenticity 2 cap a: books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament b: early Christian writings not included in the New Testament
apoc.ry.phal adj (1590) 1: of doubtful authenticity: spurious 2 often cap: of or resembling the Apocrypha syn see fictitious -- apoc.ry.phal.ly adv -- apoc.ry.phal.ness n
ar.ca.di.an adj, often cap (1589) 1: idyllically pastoral; esp: idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled 2 a: of or relating to Arcadia or the Arcadians b: of or relating to Arcadian Ar.ca.di.an n (1590) 1 often not cap: a person who lives a simple quiet life 2: a native or inhabitant of Arcadia 3: the dialect of ancient Greek used in Arcadia
According to the Brittanica,
Modern Greek ARKADHÍA, mountainous region of the central Peloponnesus of ancient Greece. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. The region is not exactly coextensive with the present-day nomós (department) of Arkadhía, which extends on the east to the Gulf of Argolis. The capital of the nomos is Trípolis.
¹bra.vu.ra n [It, lit., bravery, fr. bravare] (1757) 1: a musical passage requiring exceptional agility and technical skill in execution 2: a florid brilliant style 3: a show of daring or brilliance ²bravura adj (1920) 1: marked by an ostentatious display of skill 2: ornate, showy
chiar.oscu.ro n, pl -ros [It, fr. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] (1686) 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2 a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character) 3: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also: a print made by this technique 4: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface 5: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow
According to the Brittanica,
Chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"),
technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.
Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481; Uffizi, Florence). Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depends for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.
"chiaroscuro." and Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM. Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc. November 19, 2002.
genre n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender--more at gender] (1770) 1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content 2: kind, sort 3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically
he.do.nism n [Gk hedone pleasure; akin to Gk hedys sweet--more at sweet] (1856) 1: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life 2: a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism -- he.do.nist n -- he.do.nis.tic adj -- he.do.nis.ti.cal.ly adv
im.pas.to n, pl -tos [It, fr. impastare] (1784) 1: the thick application of a pigment to a canvas or panel in painting; also: the body of pigment so applied 2: raised decoration on ceramic ware usu. of slip or enamel -- im.pas.toed adj
neo.clas.sic or neo.clas.si.cal adj (1877): of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical esp. in literature, music, art, or architecture -- neo.clas.si.cism n -- neo.clas.si.cist n or adj
oeu.vre n, pl oeuvres [F oeuvre, lit., work, fr. L opera--more at opera] (1875): a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer
rib.ald n [ME, fr. MF ribaut, ribauld wanton, rascal, fr. riber to be wanton, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG riban to be wanton, lit., to rub] (13c): a ribald person ²ribald adj (1508) 1: crude, offensive <~ language> 2: characterized by or using coarse indecent humor syn see coarse
ten.e.brism n, often cap [L tenebrae darkness] (1954): a style of painting esp. associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a concentrated beam of light usu. from an identifiable source -- ten.e.brist n or adj, often cap
according to the Brittanica,
"in the history of Western painting, the use of extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative compositions to heighten their dramatic effect. (The term is derived from the Latin tenebrae, "darkness.") In tenebrist paintings the figures are often portrayed against a background of intense darkness, but the figures themselves are illuminated by a bright, searching light that sets off their three-dimensional forms by a harsh but exquisitely controlled chiaroscuro . The technique was introduced by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571?-1610) and was taken up in the early 17th century by painters influenced by him, including the French painter Georges de La Tour, the Dutch painters Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen, and the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán."