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10 incredible facts about Diego Velázquez

Diego Velázquez is one of the most important painters in the history of Spanish and world art. His work reflects the reality of his time with incomparable mastery and originality. Velázquez was the court painter of Philip IV, but he was also an artist who knew how to capture the beauty and dignity of the most humble people. His influence extends to our days and many artists have admired and taken him as a reference.

In this article, we present some curiosities about the life and work of Diego Velázquez that you may not have known. From his early start in the art world to his trips to Italy, discover some of the most interesting details about one of the great geniuses of painting.

1. He was baptized the same day he was born

Velázquez was born in Seville on June 6, 1599, into a wealthy family of Portuguese origin. The same day of his birth, he was baptized in the church of San Pedro, which was common in that era due to the high infant mortality rate. His full name was Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, although he is only known by his mother's surname.

2. He married his master's daughter

At the age of 11, Velázquez entered as an apprentice in the workshop of the painter Francisco Pacheco, one of the most prestigious in Seville. There he learned the techniques and principles of art, as well as the craft of painting. At the age of 19, he married Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his master, who was 15 years old. It was a marriage of convenience, very common among those who shared the same profession to protect their interests. Velázquez had two daughters with Juana: Francisca and Ignacia.

Portrait of Francisco Pacheco, master of Velázquez.

3. He had several lovers and an illegitimate son

Despite being married, Velázquez had several love affairs throughout his life. One of them was with an Italian model named Jerónima Montañés, with whom he had an illegitimate son whom he recognized and baptized as Antonio. It is believed that Jerónima is the woman who appears in the famous painting "The Venus of the Mirror", and that Antonio is the child who represents Cupid.

4. He was appointed court painter at the age of 24

In 1623, Velázquez traveled to Madrid for the first time, where he had the opportunity to paint the king, Philip IV. The monarch was so impressed with his talent that he appointed him his court painter, the highest position among the painters of the court. Velázquez moved to Madrid with his family and became the one in charge of painting the king, his family, and the most important figures in the kingdom. He also took care of overseeing the works of art that were purchased or commissioned for the palace.

5. He traveled to Italy twice

Velázquez made two trips to Italy, in 1629 and 1649, which were fundamental for his artistic training. In Italy, Velázquez was able to admire the works of the great masters of the Renaissance and Baroque, such as Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, or Caravaggio. He was also able to paint some landscapes, portraits, and mythological scenes that allowed him to experiment with new themes and styles. Among the works he created in Italy are "The Forge of Vulcan", "The Robe of Joseph", or "The Portrait of Pope Innocent X".

The Forge of Vulcan, strongly inspired by Velázquez's travels to Italy.

6. He painted marginalized people with respect and dignity

In addition to official portraits, Velázquez was also interested in painting the most humble and marginalized people in society, such as jesters, dwarves, beggars, or slaves. Far from ridiculing or pitying them, Velázquez treated them with respect and dignity, showing their humanity and their personality. Some examples of these works are "The Jester Don Diego de Acedo", "The Boy of Vallecas", or "The Slave Juan de Pareja".

7. He was awarded the Order of Santiago

Velázquez had a close relationship with King Philip IV, who appreciated and protected him. In 1658, the king awarded him the habit of the Order of Santiago, one of the most prestigious in Spain. This is a distinction that was awarded to knights who had demonstrated their valor and nobility. Velázquez added the Order of Santiago to his self-portrait in the painting "Las Meninas", as a symbol of his honor and status.

Velázquez with the Cross of Santiago in the painting of Las Meninas.

8. He died of a fever after painting the king

Velázquez died in Madrid on August 6, 1660, at the age of 61, from a fever he contracted after painting the king at the celebration of the Treaty of the Pyrenees. This treaty ended the war between Spain and France and meant the marriage of the daughter of Philip IV, María Teresa, to King Louis XIV.

9. He was sued and convicted of embezzlement after his death

In addition to being a painter, Velázquez was a royal official who was in charge of managing the works of art that were purchased or commissioned for the palace. However, it seems that he did not keep good records and that he spent more than he should have. After his death, he was sued for embezzlement and sentenced to pay a fine of 16,000 ducats. His son-in-law Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, who was also a painter and had inherited his position, had to pay the debt.

10. He was a reference for many later artists

Velázquez's work has been admired and studied by many later artists, who have seen him as a master of realism, color, light, and composition. Among the painters who have been inspired by Velázquez are Goya, Manet, Picasso, Dalí, and Bacon. Some have made versions or reinterpretations of his most famous paintings, such as Las Meninas or Las hilanderas. Others have incorporated elements or features of his style into their own works.

We hope you enjoyed this article and that it has helped you to get to know Diego Velázquez, one of the most brilliant and influential painters in the history of art. If you would like to know more about Velázquez and his work, technical characteristics, information about Renaissance artists, and, above all, information about the greatest works of art housed in the Prado Museum in Madrid, we recommend The Prado Art Guide, which is now available on Amazon.