Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez is often thought of as a painter of people but his early pictures are best regarded as still lifes. Three Musicians (1616–1617) should be renamed “Bread on a table napkin,” Tavern Scene (1616–1617) should be called “Knife and bursting Pomegranate,” and An Old Woman Cooking Eggs (1618) “Eggs being Cooked.” These early paintings, all of them on view in this excellent exhibition at the National Gallery in London, organized by the American art scholar Dawson W. Carr, are remarkable not for the people in them but for the objects.[1] The party line on these early paintings is that they show how the young Velázquez was able to use his precocious skills to dignify the humble; he was not just a court painter. What we actually see are stereotypes; youngsters with crude simian faces and quaint oldies....

 

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