DIEGO RODRIGUEZ DE SILVA Y VELAZQUEZ (1599-1660), the head of the
Spanish school of painting and one of the greatest painters the world
has known, was born in Seville early in June 1599.
His European fame is of comparatively recent origin, dating from the first quarter
of the 19th century. Till then his pictures had been immured in the
palaces and museum of Madrid; and from want of popular appreciation
they had to a large extent escaped the rapacity of the French marshals
during the Peninsular War. In 1828 Sir David Wilkie' wrote from Madrid
that he felt himself in the presence of a new power in art as he looked
at the works of Velazquez, and at the same time found a wonderful
affinity between this master and the English school of portrait
painters, being specially reminded of the firm, square touch of
Raeburn. He was struck by the sense of modernness of impression, of
direct contact with nature, and of vital force which pervaded ail the
work of Velazquez, in landscape as well as in portraiture.
Time and criticism have now fully established his reputation
as one of the most consummate of painters, and accordingly Ruskin says
of him that " everything Velazquez does may be taken as absolutely
right by the student." At the present day his marvellous technique and
strong individuality have given him a power in European art such as is
exercised by no other of the old masters. Although acquainted with all
the Italian schools, and the friend of the foremost painters of his
day, he was strong enough to withstand every external influence and to
work out for himself the development of his own nature and his own
principles of art.
A realist of the realists, he painted only what he saw;
consequently his imagination seems limited. His religious conceptions
are of the earth earthy, although some of his works, such as the "
Crucifixion " and the " Christ at the Column," are characterized by an
intensity of pathos in which he ranks second to no painter. His men and
women seem to breathe, his horses are full of action and his dogs of
life, so quick and close is his grasp of his subject.