Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez was baptized in Seville, Andalucia, in Southern Spain on June 1599 and became the most important Baroque painter of the Spanish Golden Age, as well as being the main court artist, working for King Philip IV. As a child, Velazquez had a strict Christian education, where the figure of God was feared. He was a brilliant pupil and studied philosophy and languages. His love for art naturally showed at an early age, and he became Francisco de Herrera’s student for a year. The artist was only twelve when he left Herrera’s studio and started to work as Francisco Pacheco’s apprentice where he continued for five years. Pacheco worked with a more direct sense of realism, which contrasted with the Classical teachings - derivative of Raphael - and taught the young Velazquez a lot about perspective and proportion.
Velazquez created a reputation as a great artist in Seville by the early 1620s and was quite aware of the artistic circles and trends of his city. The artist had two children with Juana Pacheco - his teacher’s daughter, which he married on April 1618. Their first-born was Francisca de Silva Velazquez y Pacheco, who married Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo, also a painter. Sadly, their second daughter, Ignacia de Silva Velázquez y Pacheco passed away as a small child. By 1622, the artist traveled to Madrid, where he met with the chaplain to King Philip IV. By the end of the same year, Rodrigo de Villandrando, one of the King’s best court painters, passed away leaving a spot for Velazquez to fill. By August of 1623, Velazquez was asked to complete a quick portrait of Philip IV, which was highly praised and, because of it, the artist was commanded to move to Madrid and became an official court painter. Not only that, Velazquez became the King’s exclusive portrait artist, and portraits done previously by other artists were stored. During this period, the artist traveled to Italy, a significant trip for him and his work. In 1629, he returned to live there for almost two years.
As Philip’s head painter, Velazquez would join him on his various trips, like to Aragon in 1642 and again two years later. Altogether, the Spanish painter concluded forty portraits of the King, as well as portraying his family. It was an honor to sit for Velazquez, and some soldiers, churchmen, and Cavaliers had the opportunity. Philip had a great love for art and wished to found an art academy in Spain with Velazquez’s help, so he sent the artist to Italy to purchase sculptures and statues for the school. In 1651, the painter returned with hundreds of statues and pictures, but because of the strict rules of the Spanish church, many were destroyed after Philip’s death.
The 1640s represent Velazquez best period, in which he creates his most authentic artworks. He concluded many portraits of the royal family and other notable members of the Spanish court, and by 1656, he culminated his efforts into his most celebrated masterpiece: Las Meninas. This period was marked by the violence of the Spanish Inquisition and its censorship among artists, but luckily, Velazquez was protected by his royal position. A Venus at Her Mirror is the only of Velazquez’s female nudes that still exists because of the censorship. After returning to Madrid in 1660, the 61-year-old artist began running a horrible fever, which led to his death in less than a week. Velazquez’s artwork was truly impactful for the Spanish Golden Era and continued to inspire artists of the XIX century, like Edouard Manet, and artists of the Impressionism, until the present day.