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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
"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
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,
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
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
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.