Early Life of Diego Velázquez

Diego Rodrguez de Silva y Velázquez, who was born in Seville in 1599, was the epitome of Spain‘s golden period of arts. He painted nobles and the common folk, landscapes and still lifes, biblical and mythological subjects, jesters and dwarfs, a young princess in formal wear, an elderly woman frying eggs, and at least one erotic nude. What distinguishes Velázquez is his union of technical proficiency and sincere expression, rather than the breadth of his subject matter.

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Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez_Erich Lessing-National Gallery of UK

Velázquez was assigned to a local notable instructor in Seville when he was 11 or 12 years old, and at the age of 18, he was licensed to open his own studio. His early paintings frequently represented religious settings. The Education of the Virgin, by Yale, is considered to have been painted about this time. Velázquez fell under the attention of King Philip IV of Spain in 1623 and obtained the first of several royal positions that would last until the artist’s death in 1660, at the age of 61.

Velázquez was commissioned to paint a portrait of the young King Philip IV in 1623, thanks to his father-in-connections. Law’s Philip was so pleased with the outcome that he promptly named Velázquez as one of his royal painters and refused to let anybody else portray him after that.

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Phillip IV of Spain in Brown and Silver_©National Gallery of UK

Velázquez gained access to the remarkable royal archive after moving to the royal court in Madrid. Velázquez was fascinated by Italian paintings, notably those by Titian and other Venetian artists. The two artists became acquainted when Rubens visited Madrid on a diplomatic trip in 1628. Velázquez was granted consent to travel to Italy and study Italian painting in 1629.

Art Philosophy and Style

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Las Meninas_Museo Nacional del Prado_©National Gallery of UK

The art of Velázquez is usually regarded as the most powerful symbol of the Spanish Baroque. Baroque emphasizes the essence of life and humankind, portraying everything as it should be seen, as opposed to a Renaissance feature of brightness and mathematical approach.

While Velázquez served the privileged, he had very high regard for human decency. Juan de Pareja, the famous portrait captures the underlying dignity of his long-serving servant and aide. Velázquez did not stress what other artists perceived as a handicap when he portrayed a dwarf held for the royal court’s enjoyment.

Both in tone and technique, Velázquez’s paintings are delightfully straightforward, forthright, and candid. Velázquez’s style is thus more akin to Caravaggio or an early Annibale Carracci than to more extravagant artists such as Rubens or Bernini. The simplicity, dignity, subdued palette, and loose, impressionistic brushstrokes characterise Velázquez’s style.

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Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos_©National Gallery of UK

Velázquez paints directly what he observes, deftly capturing textures and materials without the use of embellishment or elaboration. A direct, aggressive naturalism characterises his work. Throughout his career, Velázquez used a dark, restricted, earthy palette, but his early works, in particular, are noted for their sombre, ochre tones. All through his life, one of the most distinguishing features of Velázquez’s style has been his extraordinarily elegant, objective treatment of even the most insignificant of subjects, whom he represented with intrinsic compassion and respect.

Velázquez’s approach to depicting fabrics differed significantly from that of his contemporaries or predecessors. Velázquez disregarded rigorous, exact brushstrokes in favour of loose, impressionist paint splatters that, at first glance, seem to be a stunning, realistic painting, but upon closer scrutiny, appear nearly abstract.

Recognition in the Art World

Pablo Picasso frequented the exhibits of the Prado Museum as an adolescent arts student at Madrid’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1897 and 1898, where he preferred to copy the masterpieces of Diego Velázquez. The 17th-century Spanish virtuoso influenced many 19th- and 20th-century artists, including James McNeill Whistler, Thomas Eakins, Salvador Dali, and Francis Bacon.

The astounding amount of authenticity that Velázquez achieves, mixed with general bewilderment as to how he gets it, is part of the joy in looking at him—and it is magic. Velázquez is devoid of anything overt, blatant, vulgar, or extravagant. It’s difficult to picture anyone ever handling paint as deftly as he did.

While most Baroque artists suffered a significant decline in critical acclaim during the 18th century, eventually drifting into obscurity until rediscovered in the 1950s, Velázquez chose a different path. Due to Spain’s political atmosphere, the country was more or less disconnected from the rest of Europe during the Neoclassical era, which meant that Velázquez’s reputation was secure from Baroque-haters like Winckelmann, who had destroyed the reputations of artists such as Caravaggio, Carracci, and Bernini.

The world was prepared for Velázquez by the time Spain opened up to the rest of Europe in the early nineteenth century, and critics and artists alike haven’t stopped praising the great artist. Up to now, Velázquez has remained a surprisingly prolific source of inspiration for art critics and art historians, and his prestige as one of the greatest painters of all time has not waned.

Kitchen Scene with the Supper in Emmaus_©National Gallery of Ireland


  1. Katz, J. (n.d.). Velázquez: Embodiment of a Golden Age. [online] Smithsonian Magazine. Available at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/velazquez-embodiment-of-a-golden-age-987531/.
  2. Artble. (n.d.). Diego Velazquez. [online] Available at: https://www.artble.com/artists/diego_velazquez.
  3. ‌The Art Story. (2018). Diego Velazquez. [online] Available at: https://www.theartstory.org/artist/velazquez-diego/.
  4. ‌Enforex.com. (2020). Diego Velázquez – Spanish Culture. [online] Available at: https://www.enforex.com/culture/art-diego-velazquez.html.

Faria is an architecture student at IGDTUW, Delhi. She feels passionate towards learning and actively looks for new experiences. She believes that the design language should be universally accessible and understood, hence, she strives to uncover hidden dynamics of design by shifting the language from visual to verbal.

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