Born in Seville, Spain, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez remains one of the most skilled painters this world has ever seen. Mainly a portraitist, Velázquez captured reality with a mesmerizing aesthetic. We profile ten must-see paintings by Velázquez.
Currently located in the Apsley House in London, The Waterseller of Seville is one of the earlier works by Velázquez, painted most likely when he was still a teenager or in his early 20s. A subject that he painted two more times, the artwork depicts a bodegones scene — a scene depicting everyday items and life — of an older man with a jug standing in profile while looking down, dressed in tattered clothing and giving a drink to a younger man while another male figure stands behind. Featuring earth tones, the colors enhance the weathered look of the waterseller, a very difficult job in the sweltering heat.
Another one of Velázquez’s bodegones paintings, Old Woman Frying Eggs depicts just that: an older lady sitting in her kitchen cooking a couple of eggs. She is sitting in profile with a shallow pot in front of her cooking two eggs, with a spoon in her right hand and another egg in her left hand, while a young man looks on. Various other kitchen accoutrements adorn the space giving viewers a small glimpse into what life was like during the time. Velázquez’s beautiful rendering of light and dark further enhances the painting — he was, after all, influenced by Caravaggio. This work can be seen at the National Galleries of Scotland.
Velázquez also painted religious scenes like The Supper at Emmaus, painted some between 1622-23. This painting depicts the moment when two disciples recognize that the man with them is Christ after his resurrection. Viewers will, once again, see the influence of Caravaggio in play here with the use of light and realism in the figures — you can see the emotion in the two men’s faces when they realize what they are witnessing. Today, the painting can be seen in NYC at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Velázquez became the court painter for King Philip IV in the 1620s. Painted sometime in the late 1620s, after his appointment as court painter, The Triumph of Bacchus, or The Feast of Bacchus, depicts a mythological scene — his first one. Viewers’ eyes are drawn to Bacchus who sits almost in the center of the painting; however, it his coloring that makes him standout. While the groups of men — a couple of which are looking straight out at the viewer — to his left and right are painted in more muted tones, Bacchus is illuminated, drawing spectators’ attention. This one is located at the Museu del Prado in Madrid.
Considered by many to be Velázquez’s best equestrian portrait, the Equestrian Portrait of the Count-Duke of Olivares, or Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares, on Horseback, is a painting of Philip IV’s prime minister who had a very strong presence, which can be seen in the artwork. Riding a strong, powerful horse, the prime minister is dressed in sumptuous clothing and is looking over his left shoulder out at the viewer; he is an authoritative figure. Located at the Prado, this painting is also dynamic in its rendering, which is further enhanced by Velázquez’s signature diverse brushstrokes.
Properly known as The Toilet of Venus but widely known as The Rokeby Venus, it was once housed in the Mariott Collection at Rokeby Park, hence the more popular name. Today, however, it can be found at the National Gallery in London. Depicting Venus and Cupid, viewers see a nude Venus reclining on her side, with her backside exposed, on a chaise longue while Cupid is holding up a mirror, reflecting Venus’ face. What makes this work so special is that it is the only surviving work of a female nude by Velázquez.
Juan de Pareja was Velázquez’s slave and assistant who was eventually freed by the artist. This portrait has often been hailed as one the artist’s finest portraits ever created; indeed, even during Velázquez’s time, people were quite impressed with the painting — it is easy to see why. This is a real depiction of someone; it’s not idealized in any manner. If you were to see Juan walking around, you could easily identify him through this painting. If you’re in New York, be sure to stop by The Met to see it in person — it is truly breathtaking.
Innocent X has been a source of inspiration for many artists throughout the years, including Francis Bacon’s Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X. Located in the Dora Pamphilj Gallery in Rome, this artwork features Giovanni Battista Pamphilj who became known as Innocent X when he became Pope in 1644. The painting has an imposing presence due to Velázquez’s depiction. The pope is seated on his throne, dressed in red and white, while looking out at viewers with a hard, intense stare. It is definitely a memorable piece of art.
Without a doubt, this is Velázquez’s most well-known painting and considered by many to be his best. Painted in 1656, this grand artwork — both in its size (318 x 276 centimeters) and content — is a group portrait with a sense of realness. From the Infanta Margarita to the dwarves, Mari Bárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato, to Velázquez himself, everyone in the painting is identifiable. Capturing a specific moment in time, the painting also features a reflection Philip IV and Mariana of Austria in the mirror on the back wall. It’s impossible to point out all of the greats aspects of the piece, so if you get a chance, visit the Prado to see it in person.
One of the last works Velázquez created — he died in 1660 — was Infanta Margarita in a Blue Dress. Currently housed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, Infanta Margarita is eight years old in this painting, which is one of many artworks that Velázquez made of her. Dressed in an ornate gown of glistening blue fabric, with white accents, and adorned with jewels, the little girl looks much more grown up than her eight years. Painted with broad, fast brushstrokes, this painting should be viewed from a distance in order to see the true representation.