Form and Content

Maurice Sérullaz’s Velázquez, translated from the French by I. Mark Paris, is not in the usual format of a biography. It begins with a sixty-one-page introduction, written with the collaboration of Christian Pouillon, more than half of which is devoted to seventy-five black-and-white illustrations. This section is followed by a detailed “Biographical Outline,” which presents the important people and events in Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez’s life. The substance of the book is found in the forty-eight color plates, each accompanied by a facing page of text. A selected bibliography and an index complete the apparatus.

The biographical outline reveals that Velázquez was born in Seville on June 6, 1599, the son of Jerónima Velázquez and Juan Rodríguez de Silva. (The name by which he is known, Velázquez, is thus his mother’s name, not his father’s.) In 1611, Velázquez began a six-year apprenticeship to the painter Francisco Pacheco that was apparently decisive for his career. Velázquez prospered under Pacheco’s tutelage and was admitted to the painters’ guild of Seville in 1617. In 1618, the pupil married his master’s daughter, Juana Pacheco, who was to give birth to two daughters, Francisca and Ignacia.

Velázquez’s official role in the Spanish court began in 1623, when he was named court painter and moved to Madrid with his family. Four years later, in 1627, Velázquez won a competition sponsored by King Philip IV and was promoted to Usher of the Chamber. From this point on, Velázquez’s career at court rose steadily.

In 1629, Velázquez was allowed to visit Italy, probably as the result of the influence of the painter Peter Paul Rubens, who had been visiting in Madrid. This was the first of several important trips that he would make to Rome, Genoa, and other Italian cities. Until his death on August 6, 1660, in Madrid, Velázquez occupied successively more powerful posts at court, culminating in his appointment as Chamberlain of the Palace in 1652. His famous painting Las Meninas (The Maids of Honor) in 1656 led to his being made responsible for the arrangement of the art works in El Escorial, the royal palace. Velázquez’s final honor came two years before his death when, in 1658, Philip IV made him Knight of the Order of Santiago.