Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez
(Seville, Spain, 1599–1660, Madrid, Spain)
Oil on canvas
18 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. (46.7 x 43.5 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Algur H. Meadows Collection, MM.78.01
Listen to Barnaby Fitzgerald, Professor of Painting and Drawing at Southern Methodist University, discuss this work (1:31 minutes)
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Spanish, 1599–1660)
Portrait of Queen Mariana, c. 1656
By Barnaby Fitzgerald, professor of painting and drawing at Southern Methodist University
This very short talk about this painting by Velázquez will help people see it more closely. It is a treasure. It’s not finished, which reveals certain things about the method of painting, not only of Velázquezbut probably many of his contemporaries.
The first thing I want to show is that the cracking in the painting, which is inevitable in oil painting, is mostly in areas where the actual oil paint is thickest, and it's less pronounced in the imprimatura, which is on the lower fifth of the painting. The imprimatura is the color that Velázquez painted the painting on, which is applied thinly over white. It's important that the first color [of] paintings done at this time is almost always white, over which was painted or sponged a slightly darker gray, through which the white would exert force. If you look closely at the paint, you'll see that cracking the paint is almost always the thickest part, which are the cheeks, the forehead.
Look at the grays, too. Look at the gray above the left eye and under the chin. Those are optical grays, and they have this kind of luminescent, pearly, almost bluish effect, which is very different from the gray of the imprimatura, which is a kind of warm gray. That is achieved by painting a lighter tone over a darker area. This was well known to painters from antiquity, and it was