StudyWeb Award Velazquez Collection

My brother Jim, an artist, moved to Spain many years ago and on visits he has given us wonderful tours of the Prado museum and managed to turn a confirmed art-philistine into an art lover. Unable to find many of my favourites in cyberspace museums like the WebLouve, I did a little scanning of my own. Proudly contributed to the Net community. The comments are mine, but I'll admit the various art-book commentaries I've read have probably contributed a few words or even phrases. So sue me.

I believe I will keep up this site owing to the number of links to it that have developed over the years, but there is now a much better Velazquez collection at the Web Museum.

Don Diego de Silva y Velazquez (1599-1660)

The most honoured artist in the history of Spain. His lifetime encompassed the turbulent years in the twilight of Spain's dominance of Europe, and the height of her dominance of the visual arts. Velazquez was a great admirer of the Italian School, Titian in particular. His works have a degree of immediate, forceful realism that is almost unmatched, and shine with a great love of his subjects.

Sadly, the requirements of his position as a court painter mean that all too many of his portraits are of members of one of the most certifiably ugly royal families in human history.

All of these selections reside at the Prado in Madrid.

Las Meninas (1656) 773x881 JPEG

Perhaps his greatest work. Perhaps just the greatest painting, period. The title until the 19th century was "The Royal Family". (Look for their Majesties in the mirror). "Meninas" means, roughly, "ladies-in-waiting", young nobles who attend the princess, the Infanta Maria Teresa (later married to Louis XIV of France). Sadly, she outgrew the cute phase and came to look like the rest of the family. My favourite character? I agree with my niece in Spain, who has gazed at this enormous masterpiece for hours: the dog, the beautiful old dog so tolerant of his abuser, is fantastic.

Christ on the Cross (1630's) 663x1013 JPEG

Velazquez, for whatever reason (perhaps not confessable in ardently Catholic 17th-century Spain) did comparatively little religious art. However, this piece, proof that he had assimilated all the best of the Venetian school and brought to it perfections of his own, has been called "the perfect representation of Christ".

El Nino do Vallecas (between 1636-46) 727x947 JPEG

The proper name now given this work is "The Dwarf Francisco Lezcano"; much debate over the centuries has left some question of which of the royal family's (let us be frank) "pet dwarves" this young man was, or exactly when he was painted. Well, heck, his job beat begging in the streets, and he got to be immortalized with a tremendously sympathetic portrait. Velazquez had an amazing ability to find beauty and dignity beneath the surface of appearance.

The Dwarf Sebastian de Morra (1636) 436x579 JPEG

Some think this portrait his most beautiful. It is certainly more experimental than the formal ones of the royals, with the "wet-on-wet" painting technique that gives the face such a depth of light and shadow. This is my personal favourite. There seems to be more humanity and even nobility in those eyes than in all of the royal family.

Los Borrachos (1627) 773x554 JPEG

Also called "The Feast of Bacchus", "Los Borrachos" translates as "The Drunkards". The figure of Bacchus (centre) could have stepped from a mythological study, but the rest of the characters are soldiers and peasants of the time of the artwork, giving the roaring party an intense immediacy. Another favourite, but for a silly reason: I can't get over how much the guy just right of centre looks like the late cowboy actor Slim Pickens.

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