Happy Birthday Diego Velázquez!

Happy Birthday to Diego Velázquez, baptized in Seville on June 6, 1599! His early works covered various religious and secular subjects; however, when he entered under the employ of Spain’s King Philip IV as court artist, his focus shifted primarily to his fine talents as a portrait painter. 

In 1629, Velázquez departed from the royal court in Madrid for a trip to Italy, visiting Venice, Ferrara, Rome and Naples among others to study the works and techniques of his Italian contemporaries. By all accounts, this study-trip had a profound impact on Velázquez’s work going forward. A modified style emerged that was manifest upon his return in 1631, when he began this canvass, the Portrait of the Jester Calabazas.

Diego Velázquez, Portrait of the Jester Calabazas, c. 1631-1632. Oil on canvas, framed—199.30 x 133.10 X 12.70. Leonard C. Hanna, Jr. Fund.

In addition to a wider range of colors, a greater emphasis on clarity, the introduction of more light and a greater freedom in the execution of his brushstrokes, Velázquez’s modified style also sought to represent the form and expressions of the subject in a more realistic and natural way. 

Portrait of the Jester Calabazas is one of a larger body of paintings featuring court dwarfs and jesters that present a conscious effort to emphasize rather than hide the details and fine nuances of subjects’ deformities. It is worth noting how Velázquez utilizes a full-sized court portrait for this work, despite Calabazas’s marginal status. In this way, Calabazas’s stark and egalitarian portrayal is humanizing: celebrating rather than isolating him. 

(Reference: Oxford Art Online)

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Guest Author

Benjamin Francisco

The Cleveland Museum of Art

Benjamin Francisco is a Cello Performance major at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and an intern in the Communications and Marketing Department at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

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