Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain: Featuring Velazquez Paintings
When my husband and I were visiting Madrid, Spain, in 1992, we elected to take a tour of the famous Prado Museum. The hours that we spent there were not even enough to gain a full overview of this magnificent museum filled with world-renowned works of many famous artists. But what we did garner was a greater appreciation of the sublime canvasses painted by such notable artists as Diego de Silva Velazquez and El Greco, among others.
This post intends to focus on the pictures that were taken that day of paintings by Velazquez. They do allow photographs as long as there is no flash photography.
This first picture shows my hubby standing in front of The Fable of Arachne, also known as The Spinners. It is believed that this painting was created for a private collector sometime before 1648. It portrays a spinning contest between the Greek goddess Pallas Athena and a girl known as Arachne. Athena disguised herself as an older woman (the one on the left with a white scarf on her head), and when Arachne (in the white blouse on the right) boasted that she could win any spinning contest, the challenge began. Arachne naturally lost and was turned into a spider, so the legend goes.
The Adoration of the Magi
Velazquez painted this Adoration of the Magi in 1619 when he was around twenty years of age for a church in Seville. At an early age, he showed a mastery of portraiture painting as this readily portrays. He had studied as a pupil in the Seville studio of Francisco Pacheco, and that is where he met his future wife, Pacheco's only daughter. They married in 1618.
His prowess in painting got him admitted at a very young age as a master in the guild's Seville painters. Velazquez liked to paint ordinary people and simple objects so that he became noticed and inspired others to learn from his painting techniques.
In 1622 he made his way to Madrid, where he painted a portrait of the influential court poet Don Luis de Gongora. When the king's favorite court painter died, Velazquez was summoned to the court, and that began a decade's long job of painting for Spain's royalty. Philip IV was only sixteen years of age when he came to power as king in 1621, and his years at court and those of his family became well documented by Velazquez.
Velazquez, who was baptized in Sevilla, Spain, on June 6, 1599, died on August 6, 1660, in Madrid, Spain. He spent over 40 years of his life working as an artist in Madrid and captured the new young king's presence and kept painting him as he matured.
King Philip IV on Horseback
This painting of King Philip IV on Horseback was painted in 1634-35.
The first portrait of the young king was when Philip was 18 years old. The king liked riding horses, and while in the Prado Museum, we saw a progression of horse paintings with the king at different ages as he grew older sitting atop different mounts.
King Philip IV ruled over many other kingdoms. He was also supposed to be the Defender of the Faith, helping Catholicism triumph over the (considered at that time) heresy of Protestantism. That was a mighty job for a teenaged king!
Prince Baltasar Carlos
When viewing this large painting designed to hang over a doorway, if one looks straight on, the horse seems bloated. But when seen as intended, the perspective of this masterful painting is more in line than when looking up at an angle.
Prince Baltasar Carlos, Equestrian, was painted in 1634 to 1635. Notice the beautiful landscape in the background.
Forge of Vulcan
The Forge of Vulcan was painted in 1630 and portrayed quite a tale. The Roman sun god Apollo is telling Vulcan, the god of fire and metalwork, that his wife Venus has been unfaithful with the god of war Mars. Notice the shocked look on the face of Vulcan as he looks at the orange-robed Apollo.
Painted in 1632, this work by Velazquez is titled Christ Crucified. Note the dark background so that the entire focus is on the cross and body of Christ.
The Feast of Bacchus
This painting titled Los Borrachos or The Drinkers / The Drunks is also known as The Feast of Bacchus. It was painted in 1629.
No matter what the title, it depicts the paying of mock homage to that partially clothed ivy-crowned youth seated on a wine barrel. The peasant in the yellow pants appears to be having the most fun of all from this author's perspective.
King Philip IV
This painting of King Philip IV was in 1926. Note the unusual collar worn by him and the mode of dress for this portrait.
The Infanta Margarita
The painting titled The Infanta Margarita, was painted in 1660. According to records, this was the very last painting initiated by Velazquez. He died before it was finished. The artist Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo is credited with completing this beautiful painting of this young girl in the exquisite dress.
The Surrender of Breda
In this intricate painting, notice the man furthest to the right. It is a portrait of the master painter himself, Velazquez.
The Surrender of Breda was painted in the years 1634 to 1635. It depicts the transfer of the key to the city from the Dutch to the Spanish army.
This massive 10-foot by 9-foot canvas titled Las Meninas is also called The Family of Philip IV and was painted by Velazquez in 1656 - 1657. One entire wall in the Prado Museum is dedicated to the showing of this extraordinary painting.
Velazquez, who came to live in the royal palace and who continually painted his imperial subjects over and over again, came to know them as well as anyone outside of the family possibly could, and probably better than most.
This painting represents the court of Philip IV, and he very artfully portrayed this charming little princess who is the focal point of this masterpiece. She is surrounded by her ladies in waiting, a couple of dwarfs, and a dog who is resting on the floor to her right.
The princess's parents, the King and Queen, are seen in the distance. Their images come from a reflection in a mirror. A few other people from the Spanish court are also in the background of this canvas, but everything revolves around the princess in the foreground.
Velazquez has once again painted his likeness into this canvas as the portrait painter on the left who is taking a break and serenely holding his brushes in his hand as he is pondering his next move.
Standing in front of this magnificent painting in person was a rich experience for my husband and me.
Background Information about Velazquez
The story of the artist Velazquez is an interesting one. He came from the Hidalgo class of nobility, which was the lowest order in Spain. Nonetheless, he was reared as a gentleman. That class of people shunned manual labor, and when he showed artistic talent, his parents happily sent him to study as an apprentice under the tutelage of an art teacher at age eleven. Many others from that class swelled the ranks of the church.
Times were tough due to plague and economic malaise. Famine and bankruptcies were common.
Seville was a mecca for artists and artisans in that age, and Velazquez was in the right place at the right time. The church wielded mighty power over citizens' lives back then, and much of the artwork reflected that influence. He could have stayed in Seville and been the foremost religious painter, but he had other dreams. Coming from an aristocratic background, although poor, he had grander ambitions. At age seventeen, he was admitted into the artist's guild, and at 19, he was already painting masterpieces.
When elected to become the court painter in Madrid's capital, Velazquez had already established himself at an early age as someone worthy of his birthright. Working for the king's court also freed him from earning commissions as most other artists had to do to sustain themselves. He could instead work on mastering his craft of painting and that he did.
Towards the end of his career, Velazquez had even become a Knight of the Order of Santiago and was able to wear the order's emblem of a red cross. This emblem can be seen in his portrayal of his portrait merged into the Las Meninas painting.
He also achieved other ranks, such as that of being a Gentleman of the Wardrobe and Gentleman of the Bedchamber. His ranking within the court meant much to him. He even applied for and was awarded the position of Chamberlain to the king. With the latter rank, he had his living quarters next to the Alcazar with plenty of money, but he also had assignments that would take time away from his painting. He was responsible for the decoration and upkeep of the palaces and art treasures. He also arranged travel for the king's visits to foreign lands and accompanied him on those journeys.
Velazquez seemed to thrive in that environment and was able to continue painting his masterpieces and executing his other assignments that went with those titles.
The rule of Spanish domination was falling apart during the time he spent at court, and he saw first hand all of this turbulence.
Velazquez will always be remembered as a "painter's painter." He was brilliant with his portraiture and his technical expertise, but he bent the approved rules of church-dominated art that is to say what was respectable and what was not. He influenced others who were to follow in his footsteps.
He and his wife had two children, and one girl lived long enough to marry and bear him grandchildren who were a delight to him in his older years.
Velazquez is one of Spain's greatest known artists, and a great many of his beautiful paintings are on view inside the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. The pictures portrayed in this post represent a small fraction of the ones executed by him and viewed within the confines of the inviting Prado.
Have you ever viewed a Velazquez painting in person?
Some Photos of the Prado Museum with Music
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2009 Peggy Woods