Velasquez and The Surrender of Breda: The Making of a Masterpiece, by Anthony Bailey. The early years.

March 9, 2012 at 1:54 am (Art, books)

Diego Velasquez was born in Seville in 1599. (As I was telling my cousin about this book, she exclaimed, “Ah, Sevilla!” – the double “ll’s” sounding like a “y.” She had been there recently; it was place of happy memories for her.)

Velasquez achieved distinction as a painter early on – enough distinction to give him hope that he might become painter to the court of King Philip IV in Madrid. With this goal in mind, he moved with his family to Madrid in 1622, where in a relatively short space of time he achieved his goal.

Here are two of the most famous paintings from Velasquez’s youthful apprenticeship in Seville:

An Old Woman Cooking Eggs

The Waterseller of Seville

Anthony Bailey names The Waterseller of Seville, also known as El Corzo, the Corsican, as Velasquez’s greatest work from the early years in Seville:

Once again Velasquez has chosen a humble actor for a leading role. At the time water sellers were found all over Spain, and in places like Seville, in summer, they did a vital job. In hundred-degree Fahrenheit heat, water was truly the most precious element. At the entrance to every inn in southern Spain…a clay waterpot or alcarraza hung, ready for  those arriving to take a long drink from. The Corsican with his big jars of water was not so much a tramp or peddler as a bearer of blessings. For the parched, his clear cool water tasted sweeter than any wine. “Agua muy rica,” very tasty water, was how it was described by  the sellers, and so it felt when one drank it….The painting also has something sacramental about it. Water had an almost religious importance in this part of Spain. The boy’s contemplative look, not saying anything aloud as he presents the goblet to El Corzo in a  way as acolyte to priest, conveys his participation in an act of communion, a mystery. Jar, water, glass, the server and the recipient–in all things are signs of God’s presence.

The boy in both paintings – the “well-known chubby-cheeked boy,” as Anthony Bailey calls him – was probably modeled by the same young person.

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