Story type: Essay
Among the notable prophets of the new and true–Rubens, Rembrandt, Claude Lorraine–Velasquez was the newest and certainly the truest from our point of view. He showed us the mystery of light as God made it.
There be, among writing men, those who please the populace, and also that Elect Few who inspire writers. When Horace Greeley gave his daily message to the world, every editor of any power in America paid good money for the privilege of being a subscriber to the “Tribune.” The “Tribune” had no exchange-list–if you wanted the “Tribune” you had to buy it, and the writers bought it because it wound up their clocks–set them agoing–and they either carefully abstained from mentioning Greeley or else went in right valiantly and exposed his vagaries.
Greeley may have been often right, and we now know he was often wrong, but he infused the breath of life into his words–his sentences were a challenge–he made men think. And the reason he made men think was because he himself was a thinker.
Among modern literary men, the two English writers who have most inspired writers are Carlyle and Emerson. They were writers’ writers. In the course of their work, they touched upon every phase of man’s experience and endeavor. You can not open their books anywhere and read a page without casting about for your pencil and pad. Strong men infuse into their work a deal of their own spirit, and their words are charged with a suggestion and meaning beyond the mere sound. There is a reverberation that thrills one. All art that lives is thus vitalized with a spiritual essence: an essence that ever escapes the analyst, but which is felt and known by all who have hearts that throb and souls that feel.
Strong men make room for strong men. Emerson and Carlyle inspired other men, and they inspired each other–but whether there be warrant for that overworked reference to their “friendship” is a question. Some other word surely ought to apply here, for their relationship was largely a matter of the head, with a weather-eye on Barabbas, and three thousand miles of very salt brine between them. Carlyle never came to America: Emerson made three trips to England; and often a year or more passed without a single letter on either side. Tammas Carlyle, son of a stone-mason, with his crusty ways and clay pipe, with personality plus, at close range would have been a combination not entirely congenial to the culminating flower of seven generations of New England clergymen–probably not more so than was the shirt-sleeved and cravatless Walt, when they met that memorable day by appointment at the Astor House.
Our first and last demand of Art is that it shall give us the artist’s best. Art is the mintage of the soul. All the whim, foible, and rank personality are blown away on the winds of time–the good remains.
Of artists who have inspired artists, and who being dead yet live, Velasquez stands first.
“Velasquez was a painters’ painter–the rest of us are only painters.” And when the man who painted “Symphonies in White” further explained that a picture is finished when all traces of the means used to bring about the end have disappeared–for work alone will efface the footsteps of work–he had Velasquez in mind.
The subject of this sketch was born in the year Fifteen Hundred Ninety-nine, and died in Sixteen Hundred Sixty. And while he lived there also lived these: Shakespeare, Murillo, Cervantes, Rembrandt and Rubens.
As an artist and a man Velasquez was the equal, in his way, of any of the men just named. Ruskin has said, “Everything that Velasquez does may be regarded as absolutely right.” And Sir Joshua Reynolds placed himself on record by saying, “The portrait of Pope Innocent the Tenth by Velasquez, in the Doria Gallery, is the finest portrait in all Rome.” Yet until the year Seventeen Hundred Seventy-six, a date Americans can easily remember, the work of Velasquez was scarcely known outside of Spain. In that year Raphael Mengs wrote: “How this painter, greater than Raphael or Titian, truer far than Rubens or Van Dyck, should have been lost to view is more than I can comprehend. I can not find words to describe the splendor of his art!”
But enthusiasts who ebulliate at low temperature are plentiful. The world wagged on in its sleepy way, and it was not until Eighteen Hundred Twenty-eight that an Englishman, Sir David Wilkie, following up the clue of Mengs, began quietly to buy up all the stray pictures by Velasquez he could find in Spain. He sent them to England, and the world one day awoke to the fact that Velasquez was one of the greatest artists of all time. Curtis compiled a list of two hundred seventy-four pictures by Velasquez, which he pronounces authentic. Of these, one hundred twenty-one were owned in England, thirteen in France, twelve in Austria and eight in Italy. At least fifteen of the English ‘oldings have since been transferred to America; so, outside of England and Spain, America possesses more of the works of this master than any other country. But of this be sure: no “Velasquez” will ever leave Spain unless spirited out of the country between two days–and if one is carried away, it will not be in the false bottom of a trunk. Within a year one “Velasquez” was so found secreted at Cadiz, and the owner escaped prison only by presenting the picture, with his compliments, to the Prado Museum at Madrid. The release of the prisoner, and the acceptance of the picture, were both a bit irregular as a matter of jurisprudence; but I am told that lawyers can usually arrange these little matters–Dame Justice being blind in one eye.
There seems to have been some little discussion in the De Silva family of Seville as to whether Diego should be a lawyer, and follow in his father’s footsteps, or become an artist and possibly a vagrom. The father had hoped the boy would be his helper and successor, and here the youngster was wasting his time drawing pictures of water-jugs, baskets of flowers, old women and foolish folk about the market!
Should it be the law-school or the studio of Herrera the painter?
To almost every fond father the idea of discipline is to have the child act just as he does. But in this case the mother had her way, or, more properly, she let the boy have his–as mothers do–and the sequel shows that a woman’s heart is sometimes nearer right than a man’s head.
The fact that “Velasquez” was the maiden name of his mother, and was adopted by the young man, is a straw that tells which way the vane of his affections turned. Diego was sixteen and troublesome. He wasn’t “bad”–only he had a rollicksome, flamboyant energy that inundated everything, and made his absence often a blessing devoutly to be wished. Herrera had fixed thoughts about art and deportment. Diego failed to grasp the beauty and force of these ideas, and in the course of a year he seems to have learned just one thing of Herrera–to use brushes with very long handles and long bristles. This peculiarity he clung to through life, and the way he floated the color upon the canvas with those long, ungainly brushes, no one understood; he really didn’t know himself, and the world has long since given up the riddle. But the scheme was Herrera’s, improved upon by Velasquez; yet not all men who paint with a brush that has a handle eight feet long can paint like Velasquez.
In Herrera’s studio there were often heated arguments as to merits and demerits, flat contradictions as to facts, and wordy warfare that occasionally resulted in broken furniture. On such occasions, Herrera never hesitated to take a hand and soundly cuff a pupil’s ears, if the master thought the pupil needed it.
Velasquez has left on record the statement that Herrera was the most dogmatic, pedantic, overbearing and quarrelsome man he ever knew. Just what Herrera thought of the young man Velasquez, we unfortunately do not know. But the belief is that Velasquez left Herrera’s studio on request of Herrera.
He next entered the studio of the rich and fashionable painter, Pacheco. This man, like Macaulay, had so much learning that it ran over and he stood in the slop. He wrote a book on painting, and might also have carried on a Correspondence School wherein the art of portraiture would be taught in ten easy lessons.
In Madrid and Seville are various specimens of work done by both Herrera and Pacheco. Herrera had a certain style, and the early work of Velasquez showed Herrera’s earmarks plainly; but we look in vain for a trace of influence that can be attributed to Pacheco. Velasquez at eighteen could outstrip his master, and both knew it. So Pacheco showed his good sense by letting the young man go his own pace. He admired the dashing, handsome youth, and although Velasquez broke every rule laid down in Pacheco’s mighty tome, “Art As I Have Found It,” yet the master uttered no word of protest.
The boy was bigger than the book.
More than this, Pacheco invited the young man to come and make his home with him, so as the better to avail himself of the master’s instruction. Now, Pacheco (like Brabantio in the play) had a beautiful daughter–Juana by name. She was about the age of Velasquez, gentle, refined and amiable. Love is largely a matter of propinquity: and the world now regards Pacheco as a master matchmaker as well as a master painter. Diego and Juana were married, aged nineteen, and Pacheco breathed easier. He had attached to himself the most daring and brilliant young man he had ever known, and he had saved himself the annoyance of having his studio thronged with a gang of suitors such as crowded the courts of Ulysses.
Pacheco was pleased.
And why should Pacheco not have been pleased? He had linked his name for all time with the History of Art. Had he not been the teacher and father-in-law of Velasquez, his name would have been writ in water, for in his own art there was not enough Attic salt to save it; and his learning was a thing of dusty, musty books.
Pacheco’s virtue consisted in recognizing the genius of Velasquez, and hanging on to him closely, rubbing off all the glory that he could make stick to himself.
To the day of his death Pacheco laid the flattering unction to his soul that he had made Velasquez; but leaving this out of the discussion, no one doubts that Velasquez plucked from oblivion the name and fame of Pacheco.
“Those splendid blonde women of Rubens are the solaces of the eternal fighting-man,” writes Vance Thompson. The wife of Velasquez was of the Rubens type: she looked upon her husband as the ideal. She believed in him, ministered to him, and had no other gods before him. She had but one ambition, and that was to serve her lord and master.
Her faith in the man–in his power, in his integrity and in his art –corroborated his faith in himself. We want One to believe in us, and this being so, all else matters little.
Velasquez seems a type of the “eternal fighting-man”–not the quarrelsome, quibbling man, who draws on slight excuse, but the man with a message, who goes straight to his destination with a will that breaks through every barrier, and pushes aside every obstacle. With the savage type there is no progression: the noble red man is content to be a noble red man all his days, and the result is that in standing still he is retreating off the face of the earth. Not so your “eternal fighting-man”–he is scourged by a restlessness that allows him no rest nor respite save in his work.
Beware when a thinker and worker is let loose on the planet!
In the days of Velasquez, Spain had but two patrons for art: Royalty and the Church.
Although nominally a Catholic, Velasquez had little sympathy with the superstitions of the multitude. His religion was essentially a Natural Religion: to love his friends, to bathe in the sunshine of life, to preserve a right mental attitude–the receptive attitude, the attitude of gratitude–and to do his work: these things were for him the sum of life. His passion was art–to portray his feelings on canvas and make manifest to others the things he himself saw. The Church, he thought, did not afford sufficient outlet for his power. Cherubs that could live only in the tropics, and wings without muscles to manipulate them, did not mean much to him. The men and women on earth appealed to him more than the angels in Heaven, and he could not imagine a better paradise than this. So he painted what he saw: old men, market-women, beggars, handsome boys and toddling babies. These things did not appeal to prelates–they wanted pictures of things a long way off. So from the Church Velasquez turned his gaze toward the Court of Madrid.
Velasquez had been in the studio of Pacheco at Seville for five years. During that time he filled the days with work–joyous, eager work. He produced a good many valuable pictures and a great many sketches, which were mostly given away. Yet today, Seville, with her splendid art-gallery and her hundreds of palaces, contains not a single specimen of the work of her greatest son.
It was a rather daring thing for a young man of twenty-four to knock boldly at the gates of Royalty. But the application was made in Velasquez’s own way. All of his studies, which the critics tauntingly called “tavern pieces,” were a preparation for the life and work before him. He had mastered the subtlety of the human face, and had seen how the spirit shines through and reveals the soul.
To know how to write correctly is nothing–you must know something worth recording. To paint is nothing–you must know what you are portraying. Velasquez had become acquainted with humanity, and gotten on intimate terms with life. He had haunted the waysides and markets to good purpose; he had laid the foundation of those qualities which characterize his best work: mastery of expression, penetration into character, the ability to look upon a face and read the thoughts that lurk behind, the crouching passions, and all the aspirations too great for speech. To picture great men you must be a great man.
Velasquez was twenty-four–dark, daring, silent, with a face and form that proclaimed him a strong and valiant soul. Strong men can well afford to be gentle–those who know can well cultivate silence.
The young man did not storm the doors of the Alcazar. No; at Madrid he went quietly to work copying Titians in the gallery, and incidentally painting portraits–Royalty must come to him. He had faith in his power: he could wait. His wife knew the Court would call him–he knew it, too–the Court of Spain needed Velasquez. It is a fine thing to make yourself needed.
Nearly a year had passed, and Velasquez gave it out quietly that he was about to return to his home in Seville. Artistic Madrid rubbed its eyes. The Minister of State, the great Olivarez, came to him with a commission from the King and a goodly payment in advance, begging that, as soon as he had made a short visit to Seville, he should return to Madrid. Apartments had already been set aside for him in the Alcazar Palace. Would he not kindly comply?
Such a request from the King was really equal to an order. Velasquez surely had no intention of declining the compliment, since he had angled for it most ingeniously; but he took a little time to consider it. Of course he talked it over with his wife and her father, and we can imagine they had a quiet little supper by themselves in honor of the event.
And so in the month of May, Sixteen Hundred Twenty-three, Diego de Silva Velasquez duly became a member of the Royal Household, and very soon was the companion, friend, adviser and attendant of the King–that post which he was to hold for thirty-six years, ere Death should call him hence.
“The farmer thinks that place and power are fine things, but let him know that the President has paid dear for his White House,” said the sage of Concord.
The most miserable man I ever knew was one who married a rich woman, managed her broad acres, looked after her bonds and made report of her stocks. If the stocks failed to pay dividends, or the acres were fallow, my friend had to explain why to the tearful wife and sundry sarcastic next of kin.
The man was a Jeffersonian Democrat and preached the Life of Simplicity, because we always preach about things that are not ours. He rode behind horses that had docked tails, and apologized for being on earth, to an awful butler in solemn black.
The man had married for a home–he got it. When he wanted funds for himself, he was given dole, or else was put to the necessity of juggling the Expense-Account.
If he wished to invite friends to his home, he had to prove them standard-bred, morally sound in wind and limb, and free from fault or blemish.
The good man might have lived a thoroughly happy life, with everything supplied that he needed, but he acquired the Sanitarium Habit, for which there is no cure but poverty. And this man could not be poor even if he wanted to, for there were no grounds for divorce. His wife loved him dearly, and her income of five thousand dollars a month came along with startling regularity, willy-nilly.
Finally, at Hot Springs, Death gave him treatment and he was freed from pain.
From this o’ertrue incident it must not be imagined that wealth and position are bad things. Health is potential power. Wealth is an engine that can be used for good if you are an engineer; but to be tied to the flywheel of an engine is rather unfortunate. Had my friend been big enough to rise supreme over horses with docked tails, to subjugate a butler, to defy the next of kin and manage the wife (without letting her know it), all would have been well.
But it is a Herculean task to cope with the handicap of wealth. Mediocre men can endure failure; for, as Robert Louis the beloved has pointed out, failure is natural, but worldly success is an abnormal condition. In order to stand success you must be of very stern fiber, with all the gods on your side.
The Alcazar Palace looked strong, solid and self-sufficient on the outside. But inside, like every Court, it was a den of quibble, quarrel, envy, and the hatred which, tinctured with fear, knocks an anvil-chorus from day-dawn to dark.
A thousand people made up the household of Philip the Fourth. Any one of these could be dismissed in an hour–the power of Olivarez, the Minister, was absolute. Very naturally there were plottings and counterplottings.
A Court is a prison to most of its inmates; no freedom is there– thought is strangled and inspiration still-born. Yet life is always breaking through. When locked in a cell in a Paris prison, Horace Greeley wrote, “Thank God, at last I am free from intrusion.”
“Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage,” laughed Lovelace. Have not some of the great books of the world been written in prison? Things work by antithesis; and if your discipline is too severe, you get no discipline at all. Puritanical pretense, hypocrisy and a life of repression, with “thou shalt not” set on a hair-trigger, have made more than one man bold, genuine and honest. Draw the bow far enough this way, and your arrow will go a long way that. Forbid a man to think for himself or to act for himself, and you may add the joy of piracy and the zest of smuggling to his life. In the Spanish Court, Velasquez found life a lie, public manners an exaggeration, etiquette a pretense, and all the emotions put up in sealed cans. Fashionable Society is usually nothing but Canned Life. Look out for explosions! Velasquez held the balance true by an artistic courage and an audacity of private thought that might not have been his in a freer atmosphere. He did not wear his art upon his sleeve: he outwardly conformed, but inwardly his soul towered over every petty annoyance, and all the vain power of the fearing and quibbling little princes touched him not.
Spain, under the rule of Philip the Second, grew great. Her ships sailed every sea–the world contributed to her wealth. Art comes after a surplus has accumulated and the mere necessaries of life have been provided. Philip built great palaces, founded schools, gave encouragement to the handicrafts, and sent his embassies scouring the world for the treasures of Art. The King was a practical man, blunt, farseeing, direct. He knew the cost of things, studied out the best ways, ascertained right methods. He had the red corpuscle, the deep convolution, and so was King. His ministers did his bidding.
The grim sarcasm of entailed power is a thing so obvious that one marvels it has escaped the recognition of mankind until yesterday. But stay! Men have always seen its monstrous absurdity–hence the rack.
The Spanish Inquisition, in which Church and State combined against God, seems an awful extreme to show the depths of iniquity to which Pride married to Hypocrisy can sink. Yet martyrdom has its compensation. The spirit flies home upon the wings of victory, and in the very moment of so-called defeat, the man has the blessed consolation that he is still master of his fate–captain of his soul.
The lesson of the Inquisition was worth the price–the martyrs bought freedom for us. The fanged dogs of war, once turned loose upon the man who dared to think, have left as sole successor only a fat and harmless poodle, known as Social Ostracism. This poodle is old, toothless and given over to introspection; it has to be fed on pap; its only exercise is to exploit the horse-blocks, doze in milady’s lap, and dream of a long-lost canine paradise. The dog- catcher awaits around the corner.
Philip the Third was an etiolated and perfumed dandy. In him culture had begun to turn yellow. Men who pride themselves upon their culture haven’t any of which to speak. All the beauties of art, this man thought, were exclusively for him and his precious company of lisping exquisites and giggling, mincing queans. The thought that those who create beauty are also they who possess it, never dawned upon this crack-pated son of tired sheets.
He lived to enjoy–and so he never enjoyed anything.
Surfeit and satiety overtook him in the royal hog-wallow; digestion and zest took flight. Philip the Third speedily became a wooden Indian on wheels, moved by his Minister of State, the Duke of Lerma.
Huge animals sustain huge parasites, and so the Court of Philip the Third, with its fools, dwarfs, idiots and all of its dancing, jiggling, juggling, wasteful folly, did not succeed in wrecking the land. When Philip the Third traveled, he sent hundreds of men ahead to beat the swamps, day and night, in the vicinity of his royal presence, so as to silence the frogs. He thought their croaking was a personal matter meant for him.
I think he was right.
How the Lords of Death must chuckle in defiant glee when they send malaria and night into the palaces of the great through cracks and crevices! Philip’s bloated, unkingly body became full of disease and pain; lingering unrest racked him; the unseen demons he could not exorcise, danced on his bed, wrenched his members and played mad havoc with each quivering nerve. And so he died. Then comes Philip the Fourth, immortal through his forty portraits painted by Velasquez. Philip was only fourteen when his father died. He was a rareripe, and showed strength and decision far beyond his years. His grandfather, Philip the Second, was his ideal, and he let it be known right speedily that his reign was to be one of moderation and simplicity, modeled along the lines of Philip the Great.
The Duke of Lerma, Minister of State, who had so long been the actual ruler of Spain, was deposed, and into his place slipped the suave and handsome Olivarez, Gentleman-in-Waiting to the young King.
Olivarez was from Seville, and had known the family of Velasquez. It was through his influence that Diego so soon got the nod of Royalty. The King was eighteen, Velasquez was twenty-four, and Olivarez not much older–all boys together. And the fact that Velasquez secured the appointment of Court Painter with such ease was probably owing to his dashing horsemanship, as much as to his being a skilful painter.
At Harvard once I saw a determined effort made to place a famous “right tackle” in the chair of Assistant Professor of Rhetoric. The plan was only given over with great reluctance, when it was discovered that the “right tackle” was beautifully ignorant of the subject he would have to tackle. Even then it was argued he could “cram”–keeping one lesson in advance of his class.
But Olivarez knew Velasquez could paint, and the artist’s handsome face, stalwart frame and fearless riding did the rest. The young King was considered the best horseman in Madrid: Velasquez and Olivarez took pains never to outdo him in the joust.
The biography of Olivarez as a study of life is a better subject far than either the life of Velasquez or the King. Their lives were too successful to be interesting. Olivarez is a fine example of a man growing great through exercise. Read history and behold how commonplace men have often had greatness thrust upon them and met the issue. I have seen an absurd Class B lawyer elevated into a judgeship, and rise to the level of events, keeping silence, looking wise, hugging his dignity hard, until there came a time when the dignity really was a fair fit. Trotters often need toe-weights to give them ballast and balance–so do men need responsibility. We have had at least three commonplace men for President of the United States, who live in history as adequately great–and they were. Various and sundry good folk will here arise and say the germ of greatness was in these men all the time, awaiting the opportunity to unfold. And the answer is correct, right and proper; but a codicil should then be added to the effect that the germ of greatness is in every man, but we fall victims of arrested development, and success or society, like a worm i’ the bud, feeds on our damask cheek.
Philip was nipped in the bud by falling into the protecting shadow of Olivarez. The Prime Minister provided boar-hunts and tourneys and masquerades and fetes. Philip’s life of simplicity faded off into dressing in black–all else went on as before. Philip glided into the line of least resistance and signed every paper that he was told to sign by his gracious, winning, inflexible Minister–the true type of the iron hand in the velvet glove. From his twentieth year, after that first little flurry of pretended power, the novelty of ruling wore away; and for more than forty years he never either vetoed an act or initiated one. His ministers arranged his recreations, his gallantries, his hours of sleep. He was ruled and never knew it, and here the Richelieu-like Olivarez showed his power. It was anything to keep the King from thinking, and Spain, the Mother of Magnificence, went drifting to her death.
There were already three Court Painters when Velasquez received his appointment. They were Italians appointed by Philip the Third. Their heads were full of tradition and precedent, and they painted like their masters, who had been pupils of men who had worked with Titian–beautiful attenuations three times reduced. We only know their names now because they raised a pretty chorus of protest when Velasquez appeared at the palace. They worked all the wires they knew to bring about his downfall, and then dwindled away into chronic Artistic Jealousy, which finally struck in; and they were buried. That the plots, challenges and constant knockings of these underling court painters ever affected Velasquez, we can not see. He swung right along at prodigious strides, living his own life–a life outside and beyond all the pretense and vanity of place and power.
The King came by a secret passage daily to the studio to watch Velasquez work. There was always a chair for him, and the King even had an easel and sets of brushes and palette with which he played at painting. Pacheco, who had come up to Madrid and buzzed around encroaching on the Samuel Pepys copyright, has said that the King was a skilled painter. But this statement was for publication during the King’s lifetime.
When Velasquez could not keep the King quiet in any other way, it seems he made him sit for his picture. The studio was never without an unfinished portrait of the King. From eighteen to fifty-four he sat to Velasquez–and it is always that same tall, spindle-legged, impassive form and the dull, unspeaking face. There is no thought there, no aspiration, no hope too great for earth, no unrequited love, no dream unrealized. The King was incapable of love as he was of hate. And Velasquez did not use his art to flatter: he had the artistic conscience. Truth was his guiding star. And the greatness of Velasquez is shown in that all subjects were equally alike to him. He did not select the classic or peculiar. Little painters are always choosing their subjects and explaining that this or that may be pretty or interesting, but they will tell you it is “unpaintable” –which means that they can not paint it.
“I can write well on any topic–all are alike to me!” said Dean Swift to Stella.
“Then write me an essay on a broomstick,” answered Stella.
And Swift wrote the essay–full of abstruse reasons, playful wit and charming insight.
The long, oval, dull face of Philip lured Velasquez. He analyzed every possible shade of emotion of which this man was capable, and stripped his soul bare. The sallow skin, thin curling locks, nerveless hands, and unmeaning eyes are upon the walls of every gallery of Christendom–matchless specimens of the power to sink self, and reveal the subject.
That is why Whistler is right when he says that Velasquez is the painters’ painter. “The Blacksmith” by Whistler shows you the blacksmith, not Whistler; Rembrandt’s pictures of his mother show the woman; Franz Hals gives you the Burgomaster, not himself. Shakespeare of all writers is the most impersonal–he does not give himself away.
When Rubens painted a portrait of Philip the Fourth he put a dash of daring, exuberant health in the face that was never there. The health and joy of life was in Rubens, and he could not keep it off his palette. There is a sameness in every Rubens, because the imagination of the man ran over, and falsified his colors; he always gives you a deal of Rubens.
But stay! that expression, “sinking self,” is only a figure of speech. At the last, the true artist never sinks self: he is always supreme, and towers above every subject, every object, that he portrays. The riotous health and good-cheer of Rubens marked the man’s limitations. He was not great enough to comprehend the small, the delicate, the insignificant and the absurd. Only a very great man can paint dwarfs, idiots, topers and kings. And so the many- sidedness of the great man continually deceives the world into thinking that he is the thing with which he associates; or, on the other hand, we say he “sinks self” for the time, whereas the truth is that in his own nature he comprehends the Whole. Shakespeare being the Universal Man, we lose him in the labyrinth of his winding and wondrous imagination. The greater comprehends the less.
The beginner paints what he sees; or, more properly, he paints what he thinks he sees. If he grows he will next paint what he imagines, as Rubens did. Then there is another stage which completes the spiral and comes back to the place of beginning, and the painter will again paint what he sees.
This Velasquez did, and this is what sets him apart. The difference between the last stage and the first is that the artist has learned to see.
To write is nothing–to know what to write is much. To paint is nothing–to see and know the object you are attempting to portray is everything.
“Shall I paint the thing just as I see it?” asked the ingenue of the great artist. “Why, yes,” was the answer, “provided you do not see the thing as you paint it.”
The King and the Painter grew old together. They met on a common ground of horses, dogs and art; and while the King used these things to kill time and cause him to forget self, the Painter found horses and dogs good for rest and recreation. But art was for Velasquez a religion, a sacred passion.
Nominally the Court Painter ranked with the Court Barber, and his allowance was the same. But Velasquez ruled the King, and the King knew it not. Like all wasteful, dissolute men, Philip the Fourth had spasms of repentance when he sought by absurd economy to atone for folly.
We are all familiar with individuals who will blow to the four winds good money, and much of it, on needless meat and drink for those who are neither hungry nor athirst, and take folks for a carriage-ride who should be abed, and then the next day buy a sandwich for dinner and walk a mile to save a five-cent carfare. Some of us have done these things; and so occasionally Philip would dole out money to buy canvas and complain of the size of it, and ask in injured tone how many pictures Velasquez had painted from that last bolt of cloth! But Velasquez was a diplomat and humored his liege; yet when the artist died, the administrator of his estate had to sue the State for a settlement, and it was ten years before the final amount due the artist was paid. After twenty years of devotion, Olivarez– outmatched by Richelieu in the game of statecraft–fell into disrepute and was dismissed from office. Monarchies, like republics, are ungrateful.
Velasquez sided with his old friend Olivarez in the quarrel, and thus risked incurring the sore displeasure of the King. The King could replace his Minister of State, but there was no one to take the place of the artist; so Philip bottled his wrath, gave Velasquez the right of his private opinion, and refused to accept his resignation.
There seems little doubt that it was a calamity for Velasquez that Philip did not send him flying into disgrace with Olivarez. Had Velasquez been lifted out on the toe of the King’s displeasure, Italy would have claimed him, and the Vatican would have opened wide its doors. There, relieved of financial badgering, in the company of his equals, encouraged and uplifted, he might have performed such miracles in form and color that even the wonderful ceiling of the Sistine Chapel would have faded into the mediocre.
And again he might not–what more idle and fascinating than such speculation?
That the King endured the calm rebuke of Velasquez, when Olivarez was deposed, and still retained the Painter in favor, was probably because Rubens had assured the King that Velasquez as an artist was the master of any man in all Europe.
Velasquez made two trips to Italy, being sent on royal embassies to purchase statuary for the Prado Gallery, and incidentally to copy pictures. So there is many a Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian now in the Prado that was copied by Velasquez.
Think of the value of a Titian copied by Velasquez! And so faithfully was the copying done, even to inserting the signature, initials and date, that much doubt exists as to what pictures are genuine and what copies.
When Rubens appeared at the Court of Madrid, sent by the Duke of Mantua, with presents of Old Masters (done by himself), I can not but imagine the quiet confession, with smiles and popping of corks, that occurred when the wise and princely Rubens and the equally wise and princely Velasquez got together in some private corner.
The advent of Rubens at Madrid sent a thrill through the entire Court, and a lesser man than Velasquez would have quaked with apprehension when he found the King sitting to Rubens for a portrait in his own studio.
Not so Velasquez–he had done the King on canvas a score of times; no one else had ever been allowed to paint the King’s portrait–and he was curious to see how the picture would come out.
Rubens, twenty-two years the senior of Velasquez, shrank a bit, it seems, from the contest, and connoisseurs have said that there is a little lack of the exuberant, joyous Rubensesque quality in the various pictures done by the gracious Fleming in Spain.
The taunt that many of the pictures attributed to Rubens were done by his pupils loses its point when we behold the prodigious amount of work that the master accomplished at Madrid in nine months–a dozen portraits, several groups, a score of pictures copied. And besides this, there was time for horseback rides when the King, Rubens and Velasquez galloped away together, when they climbed mountains, and when there were fetes and receptions to attend. Rubens was then over fifty, but the fire of his youth and that joyous animation of the morning, the years had not subdued.
Velasquez had many pupils, but in Murillo his skill as a teacher is best revealed. Several of his pupils painted exactly like him, save that they neglected to breathe into the nostrils of their work the breath of life. But Velasquez seems to have encouraged Murillo to follow the bent of his moody and melancholy genius–so Murillo was himself, not a diluted Velasquez.
The strong, administrative ability of Velasquez was prized by the King as much as his ability as a painter, and he was, therefore, advanced to the position of Master of Ceremonies. In this work, with its constant demand of close attention to petty details, his latter days were consumed. He died, aged sixty-one, a victim to tasks that were not worth the doing, but which the foolish King considered as important as painting deathless pictures.
So closely was the life of his wife blended with his own that in eight days after his passing she followed him across the Border, although the physicians declared that she had no disease. Husband and wife were buried in one grave in a church that a hundred years later was burned and never rebuilt. No stone marks their resting- place; and none is needed, for Velasquez lives in his work. The truth, splendor and beauty that he produced are on a hundred walls– the inspiration of men who do and dare–the priceless heritage of us who live today and of those who shall come after.
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