Sunday, 26 April 2015

Velazquez Exhibition

Fig. 2 Diego Velazquez, Portrait du pape Innocent X,
1650, 140 x 200, oil on canvas, Rome, Galleria Doria
Pamphilj, © Amministrazione Doria Pamphilj srl

The 17th century is regarded as the Spanish Golden Age for painting. A leading artist of this era was Diego Velazquez who served in the royal court of Madrid. About a half of the works of the court painter Velazquez, including his masterpiece Las Meninas, are still today housed in the Museo Del Prado. The current retrospective at the Réunion des musées nationaux – Grand Palais is a comprehensive examination of his works, centered on the Prado collection, and including his celebrated portraits, mythological paintings and still lifes.

Velazquez was born in 1599 in Seville, Spain, and began studying painting at the age of 12 under the painter and art historian Francisco Pacheco. Velazquez quickly distinguished himself, and with the urging of Pacheco, headed for the capital of Madrid in 1622 with the aim of becoming a court painter. His early landscapes and religious paintings reveal an indirect influence of Caravaggio, but his style and technique were refined after he became a court artist in 1623. Exposure to the Venetian paintings of the royal collection and interactions with Rubens who visited royal household, as well as two trips to Italy on the advice of Rubens, prompted Velazquez to develop an innovative painting style that captured a precise visual impression through a broad touch of the brush.

His two visits to Italy brought great advancement in his works. During his first stay in 1630, Velazquez worked on his first landscape. Villa Medici, depicting the country house of the Medici family where the artist was staying, was a landscape drawn outdoors. The work is a rare example of painting out of doors before the 19th century. The artist’s expert brush captures the sunlight glimpsed through luxuriant leaves, the shadow of trees reflected on the building’s wall and the light that shifts quickly from the movement of the leaves in the wind. The fruits of his study of landscapes were incorporated in the backgrounds of the portraits Velazquez painted after his return to Spain. During this time, in addition to landscapes, Velazquez explored with intensity various other genres, including mythology paintings. The masterpiece Venus at her Mirror (fig.1) is the only existing nude by Velazquez and was an extremely rare subject for the strictly catholic regime of Spain at the time.

Fig. 1 Diego Velázquez, Vénus au miroir,
c. 1647-1651, oil on canvas, 122,5 x 177 cm,
London, the National Gallery, © The National Gallery

In 1650, during his second stay in Italy, Velazquez painted Portrait of Innocent X (fig. 2) of the absolute ruler of the Christian faith of the time. This graphic painting that delves into the inner realms of his subject is the best portrait by the artist celebrated in this genre.

The retrospective concludes with a self-portrait from the artist who painted so many others as a court painter. It is an impressive piece of work from which pensive eyes stare ahead quietly.

Velazquez Exhibition through July 13 (close Tuesdays and holidays).

Grand Palais
3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower
75008 Paris, France
Opening times:
Sun, Mon 10:00—20:00
Wed-Sat 10:00—22:00
Closed on Tuesday, 1 May