V for Velázquez

I’ve begun reading the essays included in a catalog I picked up last May while visiting the Prado and so far the first one is truly fantastic (if only all art analysis were written with such grace and clarity!).

The catalog is called Velázquez’s Fables and the first essay is entitled “Velázquez as History Painter: Rivalry, Eminence and Artistic Conciousness” written by Javier Portús (I’m guessing that whoever translated should be given credit for a wonderful translation, though perhaps dear Señor Portús also writes in English?).  Please note, I’ve added this catalog to the Bibliography.

I’d like to share two excerpts, first an anecdote:

Antonio Palomino published the first in-depth biography of Velázquez in 1724.  This account, which promplty served to distinguish the artist as a unique figure in the history of Spanish painting, still proves an indeispensable reference work on Velázquez as an individual and on the context in which he developed his work.  One of the paragraphs in this Life that merits attention is the one in which the author elucidated the reasons behind the painter’s unrivalled position in the Spanish court: “He was very pithy in his remarks and repartee: His Majesty said to him one day that there were not lacking poeple who declared that his skill was limited to knowing how to paint a head; to which he replied: ‘Sire, they favour me greatly, for I do not know that there is anyone who can paint a head.’  What a remarkable reaction to jealousy in a man who had proved his universal command of the art….”

Second, a keen analysis:

… another crucial aspect of Velázquez’s career and of the history of painting itself, namely, that formal conquests advance narrative discoveries.  Hence, the more sophisticated the tools of representation the artist has at his command, the greater the means at his disposal to construct a complex narrative plot… whereas in the aforementioned early work the elements that can be imbued with meaning (the old woman and the young maid, the objects on the table, adn the background scene) are independent of one another and their integration proves somewhat awkward, in the Fable of Arachne there is a very fluid interrelation between the different elements and they all serve to make up a coherent whole.

Exceptional writing, exceptional insight.  Thank you, Javier!

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