Diego Rodriguez De Silva Y Velasquez, a Spanish painter, born in Seville in June, 1599, died in Madrid, Aug. 7, 1660. He was of Portuguese origin on the father's side. While a child he studied under the elder Herrera, whose harshness caused him to enter the school of Francisco Pacheco, but with little advantage excepting his marriage with his master's daughter; and he was in reality self-taught. His chief model was a peasant boy, whom he painted in his rags in every variety of expression and attitude; and he also excelled in painting fruit, fish, and other common objects of still life. His works of this period exhibit great breadth and force, but no attempt at ideal or poetical expression. A well known specimen, "The Water Carrier," is in the collection at Apsley house, London. In 1622 he went to Madrid, and in 1623 was employed to paint the portrait of Olivarez, the minister of Philip IV. The king was his next sitter, and the picture was exhibited on the steps of the church of San Felipe, and greatly admired. Velasquez was immediately appointed court painter, with a regular salary in addition to the payments for his works, and is said to have received the exclusive privilege of portraying the king on canvas. In 1627 his "'Expulsion of the Moriscoes from Spain " gained him the appointment of usher of the chamber.
He became intimate with Rubens during that artist's embassy at Madrid. From 1629 to 1631 he was in Italy, and studied diligently the works of Raphael, Michel Angelo, and the other great masters; but the two works which he sent home from Rome, "Jacob with the Garment of Joseph " and "Apollo at the Forge of Vulcan," exhibit no trace of Italian influence. On his return to Spain, Philip established him in the palace, and sat to him for a celebrated equestrian portrait. In 1648 - '51 he was again in Italy, to collect pictures and statuary for the king, and while in Rome painted a portrait of Innocent X. Subsequent to his return to Madrid he produced some of his finest works, including the celebrated Meninas, representing the infanta Margarita and her maids of honor, which, in respect to aerial and linear perspective, local color, and animal and human life, is held to be almost unrivalled. In 1652 he received the exalted post of aposentador mayor (chief chamberlain), which required him to be constantly in attendance on the king, and interfered with his painting. In the spring of 1660, while engaged in arrangements for the royal family at the isle of Pheasants, on the frontiers of France, he was seized with a tertian fever, of which he died.
His wife died of grief a week afterward. - Owing to the fact that Velasquez painted almost exclusively for the king, and that his pictures, being royal property, were generally respected by Napoleon's commanders, he is still to be seen to advantage only in Madrid. The royal gallery there contains about 60, comprising portraits, history, genre, and landscape, in all of which he was equally great. In delineations of female beauty, and in subjects demanding an elevated ideal or poetical treatment, he was less successful; and his pictures of this class, although powerful, are inferior to those of Murillo. His "Surrender of Breda" or Las lamas (" The Lances"), remarkable for the feeling and expression of the figures and the technical execution, was etched in 1875 by the French artist Laguillermie. Of his genre pictures, the celebrated group entitled Los oeoedores ("The Drinkers") is regarded for-its humor alone as entitling Velasquez to the name of the " Spanish Hogarth." - See Sir William Stirling (Maxwell), "Annals of the Artists of Spain" (3 vols., London, 1848), and "Velasquez and his Works " (1855).