Diego Vélazquez was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV and one of the most important painters of the Spanish Golden Age. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary Baroque period, important as a portrait artist. In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).
Born in Seville, Andalusia, Velázquez received good training in languages and philosophy. Influenced by many artists, he showed an early gift for art and began to study under Francisco de Herrera for one year and after this, serve as an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco. By the early 1620s, his position and reputation were assured in Seville. In 1618, Velázquez married Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his teacher. She bore him two daughters. Velázquez produced notable works during this time. We was known for his compositions of amusing genre scenes (also called bodegones).
Velázquez went to Madrid in the first half of April 1622, with letters of introduction to Don Juan de Fonseca who was chaplain to the King who helped him the commission of a portrait of the king. Through the bust portrait of the king, painted in 1623, Velázquez secured admission to the royal service. In September 1628, Peter Paul Rubens came to Madrid as an emissary from the Infanta Isabella. He reinforced Velázquez's desire to see Italy and the works of the great Italian masters. It happens in 1629, he went to live in Italy for a year and a half. It is canonical to divide the artistic career of Velázquez by his two visits to Italy.
Velázquez was in constant and close attendance on Philip, accompanying him in his journeys to Aragon in 1642 and 1644. Besides the forty portraits of Philip by Velázquez, he painted portraits of other members of the royal family. Cavaliers, soldiers, churchmen, several buffoons and dwarfs in Philip's court sat for him.
Philip entrusted Vélazquez with carrying out a design on which he had long set his heart: the founding of an academy of art in Spain. He was commissioned to proceed to Italy to make purchases. He went to Venice, buying paintings of Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese. At Modena, he painted the portrait of the duke at the Modena gallery and two portraits that now adorn the Dresden gallery. Those works presage the advent of the painter's third and latest manner, a noble example of which is the great portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Doria Pamphilj Gallery in Rome. Velázquez, in this work, had now reached the manera abreviada, a term coined by contemporary Spaniards for this bolder, sharper style.
King Philip wished that Velázquez return to Spain, taking with him many pictures and 300 pieces of statuary. Elisabeth of France had died in 1644, and the king had married Mariana of Austria, whom Velázquez now painted in many attitudes. His works of this period are amongst the highest examples of his style. One of the infantas, Margaret Theresa, the eldest daughter of the new Queen, appears to be subject of Las Meninas (1656, The Maids of Honour), Velázquez's magnum opus.
Had it not been for this royal appointment, which enabled Velázquez to escape the censorship of the Inquisition, he would not have been able to release his La Venus del espejo (c. 1644–1648, Venus at her Mirror). It is the only surviving female nude by Velázquez. There were essentially only two patrons of art in Spain—the church and the art-loving king and court. Bartolomé Esteban Murillo was the artist favored by the church, while Velázquez was patronized by the crown. Velazquez' final portraits of the royal children are among his finest works. In 1660 a peace treaty between France and Spain was consummated by the marriage of Maria Theresa with Louis XIV. Velázquez was charged with the decoration of the Spanish pavilion and with the entire scenic display. On June 26 he returned to Madrid, and on July 31 he was stricken with fever. He died on August 6, 1660.
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