Artist - Velasquez
( Originally Published 1925 )
Why so well-known and authoritative a work as Velazquez, by Aurelian de Beruete, should have been so long in reaching America is a, puzzle when you consider the velocity with which the Atlantic Ocean is traversed by so many mediocre books on art. The first Spanish edition of the Beruete monograph appeared about 1897; the same year saw it in French, and from the latter tongue it was translated into English by Hugh E. Poynter in 1906. Senor Beruete is considered with reason as the prime living authority on the great Spanish realist, though his study is not so voluminous as that of Carl Justi. The Bonn professor, however, took all Spain for his province. Velasquez and His Times is the title of his work, the first edition of which came out in 1888, the second in 1903. Beruete (whose portrait by Sorolla was one of that master's most characteristic pictures at the recent Hispanic Society exhibition in New York) is not at odds on many points with Justi; but more sceptical he is, and to R. A. M. Stevenson's list of Velasquez pictures, two hundred and thirty-four, Beruete opposes the comparatively meagre number of eighty-nine. He reduces the number of sketches and waves away as spurious the Velasquez "originals" in Italy, several in the Prado, the very stronghold of the collection; and of the eleven in that famous cabinet of the Vienna Imperial Museum to which we went as to a divine service of eye and soul -- he allows only seven as authentic. The portrait of Innocent X in the Doria palace, Rome, is naturally a masterpiece, as is the bust portrait of the same subject at the Hermitage, St. Petersburg; but the Boston Museum full-length of Philip IV is discredited as a copy, only the Prince Don Baltnsar Carlos Attended by a Dwarf being admitted in the company of the true Velasquezes.
Of the "supposed portrait of Cardinal Pamphili," a real Velasquez, now hanging in the Hispanic Society, 56th Street, Beruete writes: "In the winter of 1902 there appeared in Paris a bust portrait of a cardinal brought from Italy by Messrs. Trotty & Co., which had been alluded to by Professor A. Venturi of Rome in L'Art. It is life size, representing a person about thirty years of age in the dress of a cardinal, with smiling face and black hair, moustache and pointed beard, good carriage and a touch of levity not in keeping with the dignity and austerity of a prince of the Church. The beretta and cape, of a fine red colour, the latter painted in a uniform tone and without a crease, harmonise with the roseate hue of the features, and the plain gray background. Every detail reveals the hand of Velasquez, and it can be classed without hesitation among the characteristic works of his second style. It is on that ground that I make mention of it here. However, in Rome, at the house in which this picture was found, it was held to be the portrait of Cardinal Pamphili, nephew of Innocent X, who according to Palomino was painted in Rome by Velasquez at the same time as the Pontiff, that is in 1650."
Beruete believes Palomino was wrong in declaring that Velasquez painted the young cardinal in Rome; Madrid was the likelier city. The style proves an earlier date than 1650. The cardinal withdrew from the cardinalate after three years, 1644-47, and married. The portrait was acquired by the American artist the late Francis Lathrop. Stevenson grants to the Metropolitan Museum a fruit-piece by Velasquez. Not so Beruete. J. H. McFadden of Philadelphia once owned the Dona Mariana of Austria, second wife of Philip IV, in white-and-black dress, gold chain over her shoulder, hair adorned with red bows and red-and-white feather, from the Lyne-Stephens collection in the New Gallery, 1895 and is so quoted by Stevenson; but he sold the picture and Beruete has lost track of it.
Whereas Stevenson in his invaluable book studies his subject broadly in chapters devoted to the dignity of the Velasquez technique, his colour, modelling, brushwork, and his impressionism, Beruete follows a more detailed yet simpler method. Picture by picture, in each of the three styles he adopts Justi's and Stevenson's classification he follows the painter, dealing less with the man than his work, Not that biographical data are missing on the contrary, there are many pages of anecdotes as well as the usual facts but Beruete is principally concerned with the chronology and attribution of the pictures. He has dug up some fresh material concerning the miserable pay Velasquez received, rather fought for, at the court of Philip, where he was on a par with the dwarfs, barbers, comedians, servants, and other dependants of the royal household.
The painter has been criticised for his attach-ment to the king; but as he was not of a religious nature and did not paint religious pieces with the gusto of his contemporaries, the court was his only hope of existence; either court or church. He made his choice early, and while we must regret the enormous wasting of the hours consequent upon the fulfilment of his duties as a functionary, master of the revels, and what not, we should not forget how extremely precarious would have been his lot as a painter without royal favour in the Spain of those days. He had his bed, board, house, and though he died penniless his good wife Juana only survived him seven days he had the satisfaction of knowing that he owed no man, and that his daughter had married his pupil Mazo. Velasquez was born at Seville in 1599; died at Madrid, 1660. His real name was Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez. He was a Silva for the "de" was acquired from the king after much pettifoggery on the part of that monarch with the prognathic jaw and he was of Portuguese blood. He signed Velasquez a magic grouping of letters for the lovers of art-- though born as he was Spain his forefathers came from Portugal. The mixed blood has led to furious disputes among hot-headed citizens of the two kingdoms, As if it much mattered. Velasquez's son-in-law, by the way, Juan Mazo, was the author of a number of imitations and forgeries. He was a true friend of the picture-dealers.
Velasquez belonged to that rare family of sane genius. He was eminently the painter of daylight and not a nocturnal visionary, as was Rembrandt. Shakespeare, who had all the strings to his lyre, had also many daylight moments. Mozart always sang them, and how blithely! No one, not Beethoven, not Raphael, not Goethe to name three widely disparate men of genius saw life as steadily as the Spaniard. He is a magnificent refutation of the madhouse doctors who swear to you that genius is a disease. Remember, too, that the limitations of Velasquez are clearly defined. Imagination was denied to him, asserts Beruete; he had neither the turbulent temperament of Rubens nor possessed the strained, harsh mysticism of El Greco a painter of imagination and the only painter allowed by Beruete to have affected the Velasquez palette. In a word, Velasquez was a puzzling comminglement of the classic and the realist. He had the repose and the firm, virile line of the classics, while his vision of actuality has never been surpassed. The Dutch Terburg, Vermeer, Van der Helst, Frans Hals saw as vividly the surfaces of things material, the last alone was the match of Velasquez in brush-work, but not Rembrandt recorded in his Anatomy Lesson the facts of the case as did Velasquez.
Senor Beruete wittily remarks that Los Borrachos (The Topers) of Velasquez is the truer anatomy lesson of the two. A realist, an impression st, as Stevenson has it, the Spaniard was, but he was also something more. He had a magic hand to define, the rendering of the magical mystery of space and atmosphere. Grant that he was not a colourist in the sense the Venetians were, or Rubens, yet how much more subtle, more noble, more intellectual, is his restricted tonal gamut. Those silver-grays, resonant blacks, browns, blues, and reds sing in your memory long after you have forgotten the tumultuous golden waves breaking upon the decorative coasts of Rubens. We are constrained to question the easy way Beruete and other critics deny the attributes of imagination and poetry to Velasquez. There is, perhaps, a more sublimated poetry in his pictures than in the obvious religious and mythological and allegorical set pieces of Rubens, Murillo, and how many others. His realism did not run to seed in the delineation of subject. He was as natural as Cervantes the one great man of Spain who may be compared to him and he saw the larger patterns of life, while never forgetting that the chief function of a painter is to paint, not to "think," not to rhapsodise, not to be "literary" on canvas. His cool, measuring eye did more than record sordid facts. He had a sort of enraptured vision of the earth as beautiful, the innocence of the eye we encounter in children only. Stevenson rages at those who say that Velasquez was not a colourist and Beruete is of them, though he quotes with considerable satisfaction the critical pronouncement of Royal Cortissoz (in Harper's Magazine, May, 1895) that Las Meninas is "the most perfect study of colour and values which exists."
The truth is, Stevenson, Cortissoz, and Beruete are all three in the right. That Velasquez, when in Rome, studied the pictures there; that he didn't care for Raphael; that he had very much admired the Venetians, Titian, Tintoretto; that he had admired Rubens, with whom he associated daily on the occasion of the Flemish master's visit of nine months to Madrid-these are truths not to be denied. Beruete claims that the Rubens influence is not to be seen in Velasquez, only El Greco's. Every object, living or inanimate, that swam through the eyeballs of the Spaniard surely the most wonderful pair of eyes in history - was never forgotten. His powers of assimilation were unexcelled. He saw and made note of everything, but when he painted his spectators saw nothing of any other man, living or dead. Was not the spiritual impulse missing in this man ? He couldn't paint angels, because he only painted what he saw; and as he never saw angels he only painted mankind, Life, not the "subject," appealed to him. He had little talent, less taste, for the florid decorative art of Rubens and the Venetians; but give him a simple, human theme (not pretty or sentimental) and he recreated it, not merely interpreted the scene; so that Las Meninas, The Spinners (Las Hilanderas), the hunting pictures, the various portraits of royalty, buffoons, beggars, outcasts, are the chronicles of his time, and he its master psychologist.
Beruete says that Ribera more than Zurbaran affected Velasquez; " El Greco taught him the use of delicate grays in the colouring of the flesh." Hot, hard, and dry in his first period (Borrachos), he becomes more fluid and atmospheric in the Breda composition (The Lances), and in the third period he has attained absolute mastery of his material. His salary at the court was two and sixpence a day in 1628. Even Haydn and Mozart did better as menials. Yet some historians speak of the liberality of Philip IV. An "immortal employee" indeed, as Beruete names his idol. Luca Giordano called Las Meninas the "theology of painting." Wilkie declared that the Velasquez landscapes possessed "the real sun which lights us, the air which we breathe, and the soul and spirit of nature." "To see the Prado," exclaims Steven-son, "is to modify one's opinion of the novelty of recent art." Today the impressionists and realists claim Velasquez as their patron saint as well as artistic progenitor. The profoundest master of harmonies and the possessor of a vision of the real world not second to Leonardo's, the place of the Spaniard in history will never be taken from him.
Velasquez is more modern than all the moderns; more modern than to-morrow. That sense of the liberation of the spirit which Mr. Berenson is fond of adducing as the grandest attribute of the Space Composers, Raphael and the rest, may be dis-covered in Las Meninas, or in The Spinners, space overhead, with mystery superadded. The bru-mous North was the home of mysticism, of Gothic architecture. The note of tragic mystery was seldom sounded by the Italians. Faith itself seems more real in the North. It remained for Rembrandt to give it out in his chords of chiaroscuro. And is there more noble, more virile music in all art than The Surrender of Breda?
Mr. Berenson refers only once to Velasquez and then as an "impersonal" painter. As a counter-blast to his theory of impersonality let us quote a few lines from R. A. M. Stevenson's Velasquez (that most inspiring of all art monographs): "Is it wonderful," he asks, "that you can apply Morelli's principles of criticism to the Pre-Raphaelite Italian schools; that you can point to the thumbs, fingers, poses of the head, ovals of the face and schemes of no colour that the painters learned by heart, and can even say from whom they learned? The later Venetians broke away, and when you come to Velasquez the system holds good as little as it can in our own day." But this charge holds good for many painters of the Renaissance, painters of patterns, Velasquez, like the great prose-master of France, Gustave Flaubert, is always in modulation. No two canvases are rhythmically alike, except in the matter of masterfulness. He, too, was a master of magnificent prose painting, painting worth a wilderness of makers of frozen medieval patterns. Mr. Henry B. Fuller, the author of the Chevalier di Pensieri-Vani, once spoke of the "cosy sublimity" in Raphael's Vision of Ezekiel; one might paraphrase the epigram by describing the pictures of Velasquez as boxed-in eternities. Dostoievsky knew such a sensation when he wrote of "a species of eternity within the space of a square foot." But there are many connoisseurs who find evidences of profounder and more naοve faith in the angular loveliness of the Flemish Primitives than in all the religious art of Italy or Spain.