The forty-eight color plates in Velázquez illustrate the variety of topics that the painter treated so successfully. For example, the frontispiece is Old Woman Cooking Eggs (c. 1618), an outstanding example of Velázquez’s skill at treating a homely subject with near photographic realism. The clarity of the eggs, the utensils, and the folds of the woman’s clothes is striking, combining with the expressions on the faces of the woman and her young boy helper to arrest the viewer’s gaze immediately. The woman’s partly open mouth suggests that she is giving instructions to the young boy, whose abstracted expression betrays the helplessness that he feels in his situation.
The Water Carrier or The Water Seller of Seville (16191620) resembles Old Woman Cooking Eggs in many ways. Again, a young boy, with similar features, haircut, and white collar, appears on the left looking toward the adult on the right. The main subject this time is the water seller, who dominates the right half of the painting, his large jug replacing the old woman’s utensils and his extended glass of water the old woman’s eggs. The old woman and the water seller are powerful personalities with sharply etched profiles, and they dominate the scenes that they occupy and impress with their solid presences. If great art can probe the human psyche and express its mysteries in swift tableaux of ordinary experience, then these two paintings should be admired for the genius that they reveal.
Velázquez’s interest in classical mythology and biblical themes appears in two paintings done in 1630, Joseph’s Bloody Coat Brought to Jacob and The Forge of Vulcan. In each work, six male figures are spread out from left to right, and in each case they are caught in poses that suggest surprise, astonishment, or some other strong reaction. The two young men holding Joseph’s coat seem in despair over what they are presenting to Jacob. The absolutely convincing expressions on their faces are matched by those on the faces of the second and fifth characters in The Forge of Vulcan , who are obviously stunned by what the golden-haloed Apollo on the left is telling them. The sturdy musculature of the men in both paintings and the accessories...
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