|Diego Velazquez, "Pope Innocent X," 1650|
|"Juan de Pareja," 1650|
Because of my admiration for Velazquez and curiosity about how he achieved such dazzling results with his brushwork while using the limited palette of the time, I've read a few books about him and attempted copies of a handful of his works. These three books have proven most engaging and useful to me, particularly when looking into the thinking and methods of the master. Not surprisingly, two are by the same author.
Velazquez: The Technique of Genius," by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido was published at the end of the 20th century, and brought together an art historian and a conservation scientist who discuss his work from the standpoint of art history and use of materials. Together they delineate techniques of Velazquez in fascinating detail. Jonathan Brown had already written authoritatively on the painter; Carmen Garrido was and is Head of Technical Services at the Prado in Madrid. Between them they have enormous expertise. They examined thirty painting, using the findings to show how Velazquez' methods evolved over the span of his career. The book starts with a biographical chapter by Brown and a chapter following by Garrido delineating his materials and methods, including how his technique evolved over his career. These two chapters seem a bit skimpy to a practicing oil painter, but provide valuable information about Velazquez' materials and techniques, particularly topics such as the fabrics he employed as supports--linen and hemp--as well as sizing and priming methods plus a list of pigments, and so on.
The authors marshaled impressive methods in their analysis of these paintings, including radiography, infrared and ultraviolet analysis and so on. The wide array of methods allows the authors to infer a great deal about the techniques and ideas embodied in the paintings. Of course,without writings by the painter (which seem not to exist), and no matter the evidence, it's not really possible to know what went on the painter's mind. Still, the analyses here are valuable to anybody who is interested in the work of this titan of oil painting, and there are literally no others that provide this level of information coupled with wonderful color closeups of the works. In particular, the evolution of Velazquez' technique is instructive, particularly how he achieved some of his most brilliant effects. There are chapters devoted to a number of favorites, including not only Las Meninas but several other favorites, including "The Forge of Vulcan," "Los Borrachos," and "Aesop." For a working painter, the insights and information provided, plus the glorious closeups of masterful brushwork and compositional struggles make this my favorite book about Velazquez. Highly recommended, but perhaps not so interesting for a general reader.
"Velazquez: Painter and Courtier," also by Jonathan Brown, was published in 1986 and is easily available online and in used book stores. In this volume Brown, who has spent his entire career fascinated by the Spanish master, collects information from the Spanish court records and other sources and puts the reader right there, in the Spanish Court of the 17th century. The volume is intended for both casual readers and scholars, and so there are likely to be sections that someone only dipping a toe into the waters might be happy to skip. But in his readable style, Brown helps us see how the painter and his work changed and grew during his long tenure as painter to Felipe IV of Spain. As with other books by Professor Brown, this one is lavishly illustrated in black and white and in color. Highly recommended.
Finally, Taschen publishes "Velazquez: Complete Works," an enormous volume containing all known works. This book is the definitive volume on the master, comprising the catalog raisonne and images of all known paintings. It is a large format book and for the general reader it's quite expensive. Nonetheless it's a lush with color and details. For a painter interested in the works and the techniques of Velazquez this book might be useful. For others, perhaps not so much, although it is an undeniably beautiful volume.
Other posts in this series
Favorite Art Books Part 5
Favorite Art Books Part 4
Favorite Art Books Part 3
Favorite Art Books Part 2
Favorite Art Books Part 1