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Velasquez Portrait Acquired by De Young Museum
( Article orginally published June 1957 )
The M.H. de Young Museum, San Francisco, announces one of the most important new acquisitions in its history, a portrait of Queen Mariana of Spain by Velasquez. The picture has just been purchased by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation and has been added to the Museum's Kress Collection.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez is not only Spain's greatest painter of the 17th Century but one of the outstanding artists of all time. Born in 1599 in Seville he became in 1623 Court Painter of King Philip the IVth who throughout the artist's life honored him through his continuous patronage and through bestowing upon him various court functions and finally knighthood. Velasquez died in 1660.
Though principally a portraitist he occasionally painted religious works as well as a few historical and mythological subjects. Some of these, for instance "The Surrender of Bred:a," and "The Maids of Honor" (Las Meninas), are among the world's best known paintings. Since Velasquez worked almost exclusively for the Spanish Court most of his works are now in the Great Prado Museum in Madrid whence they came from the royal palaces. Relatively few important works by Velasquez are to be found elsewhere in Europe or America.
The new picture represents Mariana of Austria, daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, who in 1649, barely 15 years old, married King Philip who was her uncle and a 44 year old widower. Velasquez painted the Queen a few months after she had in 1651 given birth to her first child, Infanta Margarita. This full length portrait, of which sevemal studio, replicas and copies exist, hangs in the Prado. The comparison of the features of the sitter, still childlike in the San Francisco portrait and somewhat more mature in the Prado picture, can leave no doubt that the one predated the other by at least a year or two. In fact the evident age of the Princess and certain historical circumstances indicate that the San Francisco picture was done in the early part of 1649 in Italy. We know that Velasquez sailed to Italy in January 1649 in the suite of the Duke of Najera y Maqueda who was the royal envoy to receive the future Queen when leaving Austrian territory at Rovereto and to conduct her to Madrid. Although Velasquez left the ducal party later on in spring in order to fulfill the main purpose of his trip which was to purchase amt treasures for the King, he undoubtedly met the young Princess at her arrival on Italian soil or during the weeks of her journey to Genoa. It was during this time that he must have painted the present picture.
Stylistically, the portrait is characteristic of Velasquez's mature art. From the dark shadows and somber colors of his teachers, Herrera and Pacheco, and from the stark naturalism of Caravaggio and Ribera he had encountered in Italy, Velasquez had graduallv evolved a very different style. Through lightening of shadows and colors, also through a change of his technique from the full application of relatively dry pa,int to a manner of painting with almost liquid brush strokes, he gradually created a very personal style of painting which in its emphasis on the rendering of visual rather than tactile values anticipated the French Impressionists by two centuries.
This late style of the master, which was the delight of Manet, is well represented in the de Young picture. Obviously a study from life, only the face is finished, while the rest of the picture especially the costume, is barely sketched in. Finished or unfinished the portrait is a wonderful example of the vision, style, and skill of one of the world's greatest painters.