The Master of Light

First published in Jetwings Magazine, Jun 2015.

The Spanish painter Diego Velázquez immortalised the royal court of 17th century Spain through his incandescent and textured canvases.

(baptised June 6, 1599 – Aug 6, 1660)

There are artists, and then there are masters. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez belonged to the latter category. Almost half a millennium later, his body of work continues to be viewed as a milestone in the history of western art. As the official court painter of King Philip IV, Velázquez had the ear of the king and benefited from his access to the expansive art collection of the Spanish royals. Born in Seville, then a bustling port city reaping the fruits of the Spanish Golden Age, Velázquez evinced an early interest in art.

Velázquez’s most significant period of training was in the atelier of Francisco Pacheco, a local art teacher. Pacheco is known for his book on Spanish art criticism and for leading a discussion group for artists, his enhanced worldview making up for his otherwise indifferent art. In 1618, Velázquez married Juana, his teacher’s daughter. He spent the next few years in Seville, making startlingly observant pieces of work called bodegones, still-life paintings with one or more human figures set in a tavern or kitchen.

Early on, Velázquez’s work demonstrates a remarkable understanding of shadow and light. His Old Woman Frying Eggs (1618), which now resides in the National Gallery of Scotland, is a study in his mastery of texture. A couple of porcelain jugs, a gleaming brass mortar and pestle, a knife, a wide bowl an onion – its roots in disarray, and two slightly wizened chili peppers lie on a plain, weathered wooden surface. Each object catches the light in impeccable ways. The halved egg luxuriates in the oil as it is being cooked. Utensils populate the canvas, and it is with great reluctance that one focuses one’s attention on the human figures in the painting. There is an innate sense of warmth and fluidity in how the artist seems to have captured the old woman and the boy mid-conversation.

JWD June 2015 Vintage Art

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