One of the greatest of all Spanish painters is undoubtedly Diego Velazquez. Originally from Seville, Velazquez painted many scenes of everyday life during his early career. Street scenes, markets, taverns, and kitchens were common far. Velazquez also did a large number of still life paintings. He studied life all around him and drew on it for inspiration, often sketching the happenings around him which he could later use in order to paint a full size work at a later time.
An example of this style, often referred to genre painting, is the Water Carrier of Seville. An elderly man in torn clothing stands in the center of the painting. The man takes a glass from a young man stepping out of the shadows with one hand. The other hand of the elderly man rests on the large jug of water in the foreground of the painting. Velazquez’s mastery of naturalism and realistic painting can be readily seen in this work. Every wrinkle and pock mark is depicted on the elderly sun weathered man’s face. The jug of water looks as if it could be a real tangible object in our world if only we would stretch out our hand and wrest it from the water carrier’s grasp. The glazed of the ceramic jug, the single drop of water rolling slowly down its surface are all so realistic looking that they very nearly could have been taken from a photograph if only photography had been invented in the beginning of the seventeenth century.
But Velazquez did not always live in Seville and work on still life and genre painting. Eventually, Velazquez moved to Madrid, the capital of Spain. It didn’t take long for the King to notice the immense talent of painting that Velazquez had mastered. Soon after Velazquez became court painter for King Phillip IV of Spain. For years he lived and worked in Madrid. It was only when the great Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens visited the court and convinced the King himself of the need for Velazquez to travel and become acquainted with other painters and artistic styles that Velazquez traveled at any length.One of the most famous paintings by Velazquez during his time as court painter is Las Meninas. This painting is supposed to be a portrait of the girl in the center of the painting, the king’s daughter. Attending her are her maids, among others. To the right of the painting stands Velazquez, looking out at the viewer. There is some debate as to what he is painting. Is he painting the young princess, this very painting? Or is he painting the two figures who’s faces we see in the mirror on the rear wall? Either way, the painting is just as much an homage to Velazquez as to the royal family. Velazquez did not slip his face into a crowd of people, as other artists did before him, but very unabashedly added himself painting into the foreground of the work. The walls are also adorned with his own canvases. Brazen or simply self-confident, either way, Velazquez deserved the praise he gave himself.