Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez was baptised in 1599, in Seville, Spain. Velázquez was a Spanish painter and his early paintings were religious-themed, he later became renowned for his realistic, complex portraits as a member of King Philip IV’s court. At the age of eleven, Velázquez was apprenticed to Francisco Pacheco, Seville’s most significant artist and art theorist, and Velázquez soon surpassed his master in skill and technique. As well as taking guidance from Pacheco, Velázquez also took inspiration from the work of Caravaggio, who was famous for his dark, dramatically lit works. We can clearly see that in the below cropped image of Margarita, which is taken from a larger painting – Las Meninas, Spanish for ‘The Ladies-in-waiting’. 

Detail of Margarita in La familia de Felipe IV. Las Meninas.

Velázquez is one of the most famous European painters and other more contemporary artists have taken inspiration from him also. One of my favourite painters Francis Bacon in particular (I hadn’t realised until researching Velázquez) took inspiration from Velázquez’ painting of Pope Innocent X. When I learned this, I felt a swathe of reassurance, recently I had started to feel like a bit of an imposter, recreating the works of others as opposed to creating my own original works but to see the wonderful works of Bacon against Velázquez was very encouraging. Although when I researched a little further into this connection I found an article by Phaidon which commented on how Bacon actually regretted focusing so heavily on this painting of the Pope for twenty years, recreating it so many times. There were also questions posed around the psychological drivers that caused Bacon to focus so heavily on this religious figure, themes around his sexuality, relationship with his father and self emerged. I think you can indeed see huge turmoil and distress in Bacon’s paintings not only in the painting below but across all of his works more generally.

Diego Velazquez Pope Innocent X 1650. Study after Velazquez’s Portrait of Pop Innocent X 1953 © The Estate of Francis Bacon.

Looking at the portrait of Margarita it immediately reminded me of my young niece, Amelie. I decided that similarly to my response to Lynette Yiadom Boakye I wanted to take inspiration from the artist’s work but instead of just recreating the image itself, I would use a different image for inspiration and try and merge the two. In doing so it also reminded me of the work of Genieve Figgis where she uses traditional and historic painted scenes of aristocracy and creates a contemporary twist, my aim was to create something similar.

I had taken the above photo of Amelie myself at her second birthday party, in this image there were lots of family and friends around her and I really like her gaze, she’s not smiling or giggling (as she so often would have been) but is maybe a little overwhelmed by all of the people? I really like the photo it really captures her in that moment, although this was over a year ago and her hair is twice as long and her face has already changed so much!

As you can see above I feel like there are some similarities in the images, the blonde hair and the way the light touches the face, I especially like the characteristic little chubby cheeks of both children. So now I had decided on the image I wished to recreate I set about trying to paint the image. I decided to start with a black ground similar to the painting by Velázquez, although I found it difficult on occasion to marry the dark background with the background of Amelie in the actual photo, and to get the lighting right.

Above I have tried to capture the different processes and layers that have gone in to the final painting. As with the response to Lynette Yiadom Boakye of John Boyega I really struggled in wanting to capture a real likeness of Amelie, and I now know that realist painting is something that I find very difficult. Throughout the process though I did become more confident in using oil paints and trying to mix colours both on the palette and on the board. As you can also see for the above images I did not spend a great deal of time sketching the facial features of Amelie and I wonder if this contributed to the difficulty I experienced when trying to paint her portrait. Interestingly I also like some of the earlier versions of the painting. For example in the middle row there is a real lightness and angelic feel to to the images.

I do think actually as I was trying to merge both images, the photograph of Amelie and using the style of Velázquez I have achieved this to an extent. The eyes in particular don’t necessarily match the photograph but do resemble the quite bold gaze in Velázquez’ depiction of Margarita. To push this further I’d really like to try and photograph Amelie using a dark background and then perhaps trying to paint with acrylics to see how the outcomes might differ.

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