Diego de Velazquez is still one of the most famous Spanish painters. He epitomized the Spanish Golden Age, producing some of the seventeenth century’s most imaginative and individual artworks.
Diego Velazquez paintings captured religious leaders, royal families, and lowly servants. Taken together, they supply a fascinating insight into the Spanish royal court and Velázquez’s artistic progression.
Today, we explore Diego de Velázquez’s life and times. We also present some of the most famous works of Diego Velazquez art.
Born 6 June 1599, Diego de Velázquez spent his early life in Seville, Spain.
Aged 11, Velázquez started an apprenticeship with a local painter named Francisco Pacheco. However, Velázquez’s talent was clear from even this early age. He often helped Pacheco with religious paintings and saw works by leading Italian masters such as Caravaggio.
Caravaggio’s pioneering use of chiaroscuro and tenebrism was incredibly influential on the young Velázquez. The young artist particularly favored tenebrism, with violent contrasts between light and dark shades.
After completing his apprenticeship with Pacheco in 1617, Velázquez immediately founded his studio. Then, in 1618, he married Juana, Pacheco’s daughter. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage, and Juana gave birth to two daughters in the following few years.
Velázquez was a Spanish Baroque painter. During his early career, Diego Velazquez art often focused on religious themes. His output reflected his early training and requests from wealthy patrons.
As his artistic career progressed, Velázquez joined the court of King Philip IV of Spain. This court experience resulted in some of the seventeenth century’s most skillful and extraordinary paintings.
Velázquez moved to Madrid in 1622. Thanks to Pacheco’s influential connections in high society, Velázquez met the Count-Duke of Olivares. He painted the Count’s portrait to significant critical acclaim. As a result, the Count-Duke of Olivares introduced Velázquez to King Philip IV of Spain.
On seeing some of Velázquez’s portraits, Philip IV was so impressed that he declared no one else should paint him. Consequently, Philip appointed Velázquez as his court painter.
Throughout his career, Diego de Velazquez painted between 110 and 120 artworks. His move to Madrid meant access to Philip IV’s vast art collection. It also led to introductions with other leading artists, such as Peter Paul Reubens.
Indeed, the great Flemish Baroque master spent six months at Philip’s court in 1628. His exuberant approach to painting robust, fleshy figures inspired Velazquez. Ruben’s influence appears in lots of Diego Velázquez's art of this period, notably The Feast of Bacchus.
In 1629, Velázquez traveled to Italy. As a result, he discovered Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. These Old Master revelations proved another transformative moment for Velázquez’s style.
Velázquez produced many famous portraits during his career. However, the most prominent image is his depiction of Pope Innocent X.
In 1649, Velázquez traveled to Italy for a second time. During this trip, he gained the opportunity to paint the Pope. An extreme honor, this resulted in Velázquez’s portrait of 1650.
From the 1630s onwards, Velázquez also painted dwarves serving in the royal court. Unusually for artists of the time, Velázquez painted these individuals as complex human beings. His psychological insight is particularly evident in works such as The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano (1643).
While it’s not a traditional portrait, Velázquez’s Venus at her Mirror is another exceptionally famous depiction of the nude female body.
After Italy, Velazquez rejoined the Spanish court. From this point onwards, his style was even more refined and skillful. Velázquez’s return to Spain resulted in one of his most acclaimed and mysterious artworks. The painting was, of course, Las Meninas (1656).
Today, Diego Velazquez Las Meninas is still one of the most famous paintings in the world. It’s renowned for its masterful painterly technique and the composition’s mysteries.
Indeed, the artwork presents a moment frozen in time, focusing on the Infanta Margarita Theresa. At this point, Margarita Theresa was Philip’s only surviving heir. Velázquez peers out from the canvas, partially concealed by a large easel.
Velázquez is probably studying the Spanish King and Queen for his large painting. Indeed, the royal pair appear in a mirror at the back of the composition. Despite this, as a viewer, it seems like Velázquez studies us. It’s a clever commentary on the relationships between viewers, sitters, and artistic creators.
Today, Diego Velazquez paintings appear in leading museums worldwide.
These institutions include the Museo del Prado in Madrid (Spain) and the National Gallery in London, England. The Metropolitan Museum in New York, USA, also boasts a substantial collection of Velázquez art.
In 1658 Philip IV appointed Velazquez as a Knight of Santiago. This prestigious title thanked Velázquez for his work at court, as well as his painting. Indeed, he often worked as a court wardrobe assistant and keeper of the royal art collection.
Velázquez’s later responsibilities involved decorating the wedding of Maria Theresa to Louis IV. The wedding took place in 1660. Unfortunately, perhaps because of the intense work involved, Velázquez contracted a fever.
After the wedding, Velazquez returned to Madrid. Unfortunately, he died two months later, on 6 August 1660.
Given his close relationship with Velázquez, the painter’s death deeply saddened Philip IV. After the event, the King described his emotional state as “crushed”.
If you love the mastery and beauty of Diego Velázquez paintings, explore our collection of his most famous artworks. Discover fine art replicas to enhance your home or office, from Las Meninas to the striking portrait of Pope Innocent X or the sensuality of the Rokeby Venus.