The Painter of Painters: Diego Velázquez

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Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660) is often touted as one of the world's most famous painters, with his 1656 masterpiece "Las Meninas" said to be one of the most famous paintings. Today, in honor of the 348th anniversary of his death, we'll take a closer look at the man and the masterpiece, both requested by reader Fign.

1. The true subject of "Las Meninas" is difficult to figure out and is still debated by scholars. The painting depicts Spain's infanta, Margarita, along with two ladies-in-waiting (meninas), two court buffoons, a mastiff, the duenna Marcela de Ulloa, and the quartermaster José Nieto. But wait, there's still more! Velázquez himself stands to the side, painting, while Margarita's parents, King Felipe IV and Queen Maria de Austria, are reflected in a mirror. This double portrait of the royal couple, reflected in the mirror, is the only known double portrait painted of them by Diego da Silva Velázquez.

2. By the time he painted "Las Meninas," Velázquez had been the court painter for 33 years. When he first moved to the court in Madrid, he was given 300 ducats (approximately 750 g of gold, or about €12000 in 2005) to cover moving expenses. To receive his position, he had completed a portrait of the king in one day, after which it was declared that no other painter would ever paint Felipe's portrait, and that all other portraits of the king would be withdrawn from circulation. In his first year with the court, he received a salary of 20 ducats a month, plus medical attendance, lodging, and additional payments for specific paintings; over the years, his salary grew and his position in the court rose. The king was particularly close with Velázquez and, after the painter's death, wrote "I am crushed" in the margins of a memo regarding a replacement court painter.

3. After a lengthy background check (into lineage, profession, family professions, etc.), Velázquez finally received the Cruz Roja (Red Cross) of the Orden de Santiago (Order of Santiago) in 1659"¦ but he's depicted wearing the red cross in "Las Meninas," which was painted three years prior. Apparently, King Felipe IV ordered that the cross be added to the painting after Velázquez received it, probably while Velázquez was still alive. Rumor has it that Felipe himself painted the cross into the masterpiece, but no one's really quite sure.

4. Velázquez has had a large influence on the art world. Not only was he called the "painter of painters" by Edouard Manet, but his "Las Meninas" has been oft-copied by other well-established painters. Pablo Picasso painted 58 variations (yes, 58!) of "Las Meninas," one of which was his largest work since "Guernica." In 1958, Salvador Dali created "Velázquez Painting the Infanta Margarita with the Lights and Shadows of His Own Glory."

A larger version of "Las Meninas" is available here.

Fans of Diego da Silva Velázquez should check out his ARC and WGA galleries; Wikipedia's in-depth analysis of "Las Meninas;" the National Gallery's online exhibit; this "virtual reality journey" into "Las Meninas;" the "Las Meninas" 2008 Google doodle for Velázquez's birthday; this YouTube video of his work; and this YouTube video of "Las Meninas."

Current Exhibitions:
Forgetting Velázquez: Las Meninas (Barcelona, Spain: through September 28, 2008)
El Greco to Velázquez (Durham, NC: August 21 - November 9, 2008)

"Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at feelartagain@gmail.com with artist suggestions or details of current exhibitions.

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August 5, 2008 - 5:19am
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