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Two Young Men Eating at a Humble Table

Two Young Men Eating at a Humble Table c.1618–1620

Diego Velázquez (1599–1660)

English Heritage, The Wellington Collection, Apsley House

(Baptised Seville, 6 June 1599; died Madrid, 6 August 1660). The greatest painter of the Spanish School, chiefly renowned as one of the supreme portraitists in world art. He spent most of his career at the court in Madrid, but he grew up in Seville, where in 1610/11 he was apprenticed to Pacheco (possibly following a brief period of study with Herrera the Elder). In 1617 he qualified as a master painter and in the following year he married Pacheco's daughter. Velázquez was exceptionally precocious and while he was still in his teens he painted pictures that display commanding presence and complete technical mastery. Pacheco's own style in religious paintings was ‘dry and insipid’ (Palomino), but he was a sympathetic teacher and Velázquez followed his advice to ‘go to nature for everything’: in works such as the Immaculate Conception (c.1618, NG, London) and the Adoration of the Magi (1619, Prado, Madrid) he developed a more lifelike approach to religious art, in which the figures are treated like portraits rather than ideal types (his young wife may be the model for the Virgin in both these pictures). The light, too, is realistically observed, even though it has a mysterious, spiritual quality. In their strong chiaroscuro as well as their naturalism such pictures show an affinity with the work of Caravaggio and his followers, but the supple, clotted brushwork is already entirely Velázquez's own. In addition to religious pictures, his early work included several bodegones, a type of genre scene to which he brought a new seriousness and dignity: the best known among them is The Waterseller of Seville (c.1620, Wellington Mus., London), in which the water dripping down the jug shows his remarkable ability to create a sense of almost palpable reality.

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)


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