Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Looking at Velazquez

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish, 1599–1660), Juan de Pareja (born about 1610, died 1670),1650, oil on canvas, 32 x 27 1/2 in, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
"Juan de Pareja was a mestizo or half-caste from Seville . He was about forty years old at this time, and had been in Velazquez's service since boyhood. He was a gifted painter, as the seven authenticated canvases of his which have survived show; and he had taught himself to paint, so the story runs, in the time-honoured manner of Tintoretto, by sneaking into the studio before dawn to apply the lessons he had picked up while grinding his master's paints."
Jon Manchip White
Diego Velazquez: Painter and Courtier
This is perhaps one of the most beautiful portraits in the history of western art, a picture unembellished by dramatic effects or colors. This might be what draws me to it, the honesty and humility of a gifted painter so sure of his talent that all he needed were quiet muted tones to captivate an audience. The painting "was generally applauded by all the painters from different countries, who said that the other pictures in the show were art but this one alone was 'truth,'" Palomino writes. According to Jon Manchip White, Velazquez painted the portrait of his servant and companion during his second trip to Italy in 1650. As he explains, Velazquez had received an invitation to paint the portrait of Pope Innocent X, but after tending to aristocratic matters on behalf of King Philip IV, the master felt a bit rusty and decided to paint Juan de Pareja as a warm up before starting work on the Pope's portrait. White explain, "the portrait of his servant was put on view in the Pantheon, where its ripe harmonies created a sensation, and as a result the painter was immediately elected to the Academy of St. Luke."
Juan de Pareja after Velazquez, 2009, pencil in moleskine sketchbook
I have always admired Velazquez. His hand at work is always visible, giving his pictures a certain raw quality with a great dose of finesse. Every time I visit the Met I stop in the Spanish Paintings gallery, where a good collection of his works hang proudly. Amongst these pictures is the portrait of Juan de Pareja. Little by little I became more intrigued by Velazquez and started reading up on him. I recently got done with Jon Manchip White's "Diego Velazquez: Painter and Courtier," and was very surprised to find that Velazquez was a slow worker and that his output is much less than his contemporaries. This doesn't rob him of his genius as a painter, and many of us can benefit from studying his art. This is why I decided to copy Velazquez's Juan de Pareja. Feels like the time is right for me to do so, and in preparing myself I took a short trip to the Met recently to sketch the painting and familiarize myself with it more. The application process for this will take a few months, it seems like the Met has a long list of people wanting to copy paintings in the galleries and they only allow a limited number at a time. However long this may take I'll be visiting the museum as always and will keep looking at Velazquez.

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