While the tranquil, sentimental work of
became highly esteemed across Europe, the preeminent Spanish painter of the age, and one of the most revered artists in history, was Diego Velázquez. With rigorous academic training, high ambitions, and a precocious talent, he rose to the rank of official painter to Philip IV, King of Spain, whose patronage of Velázquez and other artists was a hallmark of the period. Adept in many different kinds of painting, from still-lifes to portraits to religious paintings, Velázquez also possessed a rare ingenuity that allowed him to fold several of these genres deftly into each other, as in The Waterseller of Seville
While many may recognize his famous Rokeby Venus
(1647-51) (and perhaps its infamous chapter in the history of iconoclasm
), Velázquez’s greatest achievement was Las Meninas
(1656), an inventive group portrait of the royal family of Spain. Philip IV and his wife Mary Anne appear in it, but are placed in the position of the viewer and can be seen only dimly reflected in the mirror hung on the back wall of a room. Below the reflection of her parents stands the petite princess Margarita (la Infanta
) surrounded by her handmaidens (las Meninas
). To the left is a self-portrait of Velázquez, shown in the act of painting, it seems, the very image we now observe. A virtuosic weave of artist, subject, reflections, and angles, the painting has, since its creation, inspired responses from critics, scholars, poets, playwrights, and philosophers.