Friday, April 2, 2010

Is this the face of Velazquez?

After entering the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1949 as a self portrait by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660), the image of a Spanish gentleman was demoted over the years to the "School of Velazquez' and then to the "Studio of Velazquez". The recent removal of the clumsy in-painting done during an aggressive restoration years earlier, as well as layers of yellowing varnish revealed a masterful study from life done by the master's hand. The restored painting (top) hangs proudly in the Met these days next to other Velazquez paintings. The question as to whether the man in the piece is Velasquez himself remains in the air. The portrait has a sketchy surface, painted with stunning confidence and sensitivity. It is clearly a study for a prominent figure gazing out at the viewer near the right corner of Velazquez's monumental composition "Surrender of Breda" (#2). While artists have often placed themselves in such compositions, some say the Court of Spain's strict etiquette would not allow such a move. One must keep in mind however, it was Velazquez who included himself prominently in his undisputed masterpiece "Las Meninas" (#3). The last painting shown is an acknowledged self portrait by the artist. Taking into account the time span between the Met portrait and the one here, the resemblance between them is intriguingly persuasive.

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