Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez
Born Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
June 6, 1599
Seville, Spain
Died Aug. 6, 1660 (at age 61)
Madrid, Spain
Nationality Spanish
Movement Baroque
Field Painting
Works View Complete Works

Diego Velázquez was a notable Spanish artist who achieved notoriety and fame in the seventeenth century. Born in 1599 in Seville, he lived and painted until his death in 1660 at the age of sixty one. He was the eldest of six siblings, five brothers and one sister, although little to nothing is known about them. Diego’s father, Juan Rodriguez de Silva had high hopes for his eldest son and apprenticed him as a child to Francisco de Herrera the Elder. Not long after this, Juan found another master with more prestigious contacts and at age twelve transferred his son’s apprenticeship to Francisco Pacheco.

Francisco Pacheco

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) began his apprenticeship with Francisco Pacheco in 1611 and from this time onwards, his successful career as an artist was set in motion. Firstly, Francisco Pacheco had influential contacts in the Spanish royal court which was to have more value to Diego, than his teacher’s modest artistic talent. In addition, his place of work was a regular meeting place for leading Seville intellectuals, including artists, poets, and various scholars. Frequent discussion centered on artists such as Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian, and Caravaggio, while the theory of art was, as one would expect, a central topic of discussion.

When Velázquez was just eighteen years of age, a significant milestone in his life occurred. After applying to the Painter’s Guild of St. Luke, he was accepted in 1617 and marked the beginning of his independent career as an artist. His membership in the guild allowed him to establish his own workshop, complete with assistants. More importantly, it allowed him to accept commission from the Holy Church, the major commissioner of significant artistic works at the time. The other significant event for Velázquez in his eighteenth year, was that he married the daughter of his teacher, Juana Pacheco.

His personal life was not as successful as his professional life because over the course of the following three years, he had two daughters, but only Francisca survived. The social contacts which were readily available via Juana and her father though, ensured the survival of his professional artistic career.

Pre-1622 Artworks

Between 1617 and 1822, Diego painted his first portraits and religious works. He also indulged in a common genre of the time known as bodegones, which in essence were tavern and kitchen scenes in which drink and various food items were the focal items. Significant works from this period included Three Men at Table, Old Woman Frying Eggs and the The Waterseller in Seville, while the religious works Mother Jeronima de la Fuete and the Adoration of the Magi were considered his more significant works. It is also thought that the main characters in the Adoration of the Magi are portraits of himself and his family, that is to say, Diego is the young king, his father-in-law is the old king while the Virgin Mary is his wife.

1622 – 1629

This was a period in which Velázquez experienced some growth as a painter due to his leaving Seville and visiting Madrid and Toledo. During this period he was able to see many art treasures as well as establish useful artistic contacts. He was influenced by the works of El Greco, Juan Sanchez Cotan, and Pedro de Orrente during this time, and in 1623, received his first court commission when Prime Minister Count-Duke of Olivares invited him to paint the portrait of King Philip IV. The portrait was immensely successful and led to his permanent appointment as court painter. He also enjoyed the privilege of being the only artist and painter allowed to paint the king.

Following this success, in 1628 he received a visit from the renowned artist, Rubens, while he was visiting the court at Madrid. Velázquez and Rubens spent time together while Rubens was working and this led into the next significant period of artistic influence for Velázquez. It was Rubens who invited him to visit Italy, and so began another period of development in his career.


Velázquez made his first visit to Italy in 1629. He went to Genoa and Venice where he saw the work of Titian, who he had admired since the days of his apprenticeship in Seville. His art was significantly influenced by Titian, more so than any other artist he was exposed to at this time. He also visited Florence and Rome, where the works of many masters was available for him to study. He stayed in Rome for almost a year, where he copied the masters, as well as embarking on some works of his own. He painted The Forge of Vulcan and Joseph’s Bloody Coat Brought To Jacob.

The Surrender Of Breda

Back in Madrid, Velázquez continued in the employment of the Spanish Court. By 1634, he was hard at work on the artistic side of the decorations for the Buen Retino palace. The Surrender Of Breda was one of these works and is best described as cyclic work comprising twelve battle scenes, each scene painted by a different painter. The fortress of Breda is significant in Spanish history as it was the location of a victory effected by Spinola, a famous Spanish general, after a siege at Breda which had lasted for twelve months. Velasquez painted the scene of the ceremonious handing over of the keys to the fortress of Breda. This painting has been described as a superlative historical piece of work, the best in Western Europe.

Promotion At The Spanish Court

Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) produced some of his best work between 1636 and 1649 and it was during this time that he was made Assistant to the Wardrobe and then Chamberlain of the King’s private chambers. He was also made an assistant overseeing royal building projects. During this period, he painted The Fable Of Aranchne and Venus At Her Mirror.

Velázquez visited Rome again in 1649 where he painted his famous portrait of Pope Innocent X as well as a variety of other paintings. When he returned to Madrid his patron the King made him Supreme Court Marshal and the appointment enabled him to expand his art workshop. He also took on many assistants and pupils, who unfortunately were not of the same artistic caliber as Velázquez.

His last major work was a multiple portrait of the Spanish Royal Family, called Las Meninas. The Infant Margarita is the main figure, running into Diego’s studio and followed by a procession of attendants, while the images of the king and queen appear as reflections in a background mirror, where a painting by Rubens and one by Jordaens can also be seen. It is unique in its conception and execution. Diego Velázquez died in Madrid, in the palace where he spent so much of his time, in August 1660.

One response to “Diego Velázquez”

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