Spanish painter, the country's greatest baroque
artist, who, with Francisco de Goya and El Greco, forms the great triumvirate
of Spanish painting.
Velázquez was born in Seville on June 6, 1599,
the oldest of six children; both his parents were from the minor nobility. Between
1611 and 1617 the young Velázquez worked as an apprentice to Francisco
Pacheco, a Sevillian Mannerist painter who became Velázquez's father-in-law.
During his student years Velázquez absorbed the most popular contemporaneous
styles of painting, derived, in part, from both Flemish and Italian realism.
Many of his earliest paintings show a strong naturalist bias, as does The Meal,
which may have been his first work as an independent master after passing the
examination of the Guild of Saint Luke. This painting belongs to the first of
three categories—the bodegón, or kitchen piece, along with portraits
and religious scenes—into which his youthful works, executed between about
1617 and 1623, may be placed. In his kitchen pieces, a few figures are combined
with studied still-life objects, as in Water Seller of Seville. The masterly effects
of light and shadow, as well as the direct observation of nature, make inevitable
a comparison with the work of the Italian painter Caravaggio. Velázquez's
religious paintings, images of simple piety, portray models drawn from the streets
of Seville, as Pacheco states in his biography of Velázquez. In Adoration
of the Magi, for example, the artist painted his own family in the guise of biblical
figures, including a self-portrait as well.
was also well acquainted with members of the intellectual circles of Seville.
Pacheco was the director of an informal humanist academy; at its meetings the
young artist was introduced to such people as the great poet Luis de Góngora
y Argote, whose portrait he executed in 1622. Such contact was important for Velázquez's
later work on mythological and classical subjects.
In 1622 Velázquez made his first trip to Madrid, to see the royal painting
collections, but more likely in an unsuccessful search for a position as court
painter. In 1623, however, he returned to the capital and, after executing a portrait
of the king, was named official painter to Philip IV. The portrait was the first
among many such sober, direct renditions of the king, the royal family, and members
of the court. Indeed, throughout the later 1620s, most of his efforts were dedicated
to portraiture. Mythological subjects would at times occupy his attention, as
in Bacchus or The Drinkers. This scene of revelry in an open field, picturing
the god of wine drinking with ruffian types, testifies to the artist's continued
interest in realism.