His style was influenced by Rubens and by the Italian artists of the High Renaissance, and he, in turn had great influence on artists of the nineteenth century, from Goya to the impressionists. His masterpieces include "The Drukards", "Christ on the Cross", "Surrender of Breda" (ca. 1635), and "Maids of Honor" (1656-1657). Shortly before his death, he organized the marriage ceremonies of the Spanish princess Maria Theresa and Louis XIV of France.
In 1649 he again went to Italy, this time to buy works of art for the king's collection. During his year's stay in Rome (1649-50) he painted the magnificent portraits Juan de Pareja and Pope Innocent X. At this time he was also admitted into Rome's Academy of Saint Luke. The elegant Venus at Her Toilette probably dates from this time also.
The key works of the painter's last two decades are Fable of Arachne, an image of sophisticated mythological symbolism, and his masterwork, Las meninas, a stunning group portrait of the royal family and Velázquez himself in the act of painting.
On his return to Madrid, Velázquez resumed his duties as court portraitist with the sensitive rendition Prince Baltasar Carlos with a Dwarf, an image made poignant by the young prince's death before reaching adulthood. From the 1630s on, relatively few facts are known about the artist's personal life, although his rise to prominence in court circles is well documented. In 1634 Velázquez organized the decoration of the throne room in the new royal palace of Buen Retiro; this scheme consisted of 12 scenes of battles in which Spanish troops had been victorious—painted by the most prestigious artists of the day, including Velázquez himself—and royal equestrian portraits. Velázquez's contribution to the cycle of battle pictures included the Surrender of Breda, portraying a magnanimous Spanish general receiving the leader of defeated Flemish troops after the siege of that northern town in 1624.
Velázquez travelled to Madrid in 1623 and painted a portrait of King Philip IV which is now on display in the Prado Museum. After this he was appointed the King’s official painter. He spent the majority of the next 6 years painting portraits of the Royal Family. He also painted some mythological pictures including The Drinkers which is also on display in the Prado. His depiction of the people drinking with the God of wine is a good example of how interested Velázquez was in realism but still maintains his mythological theme. In 1929 Velázquez left for Italy and spent the next two years travelling around the country.
During his early years in Seville, Velázquez painted religious scenes and scenes from everyday life called bodegones, a term derived from the Spanish word for “tavern” which was a place where people would go for a cheap meal. Painting genre scenes that depicted the everyday common lives of humble characters, he portrayed them in a humble manner with a great sense of “dignity and gravitas.” From Pacheco’s influence, Velázquez also produced religious paintings in the traditional manner he was trained in. Whereas his religious paintings could be readily identified by their similarity in style to his contemporary painters of religious subjects, he bodegones were unique in their expressive style that was reminiscent of Flemish artists such as Pieter Aertsen and Joachim Beukelaer.
Another of the early bodegones that he produced, the Water Seller of Seville, is on display at Apsley House in London. This is often compared with the work of Caravaggio because it has a very clever use of light and shadow and is a realistic portrayal of nature. Velázquez used the people of Seville as models for his religious paintings and his Adoration of the Magi, now on display in the Prado Museum in Madrid, actually includes portraits of his own family and a self-portrait for the biblical figures. Velázquez moved in the intellectual circles of Seville and was introduced to many of the poets and writers of the time. This was to influence him later in his life when his work adopted more Classical themes. In 1622 he painted a portrait of the great poet Luis de Góngora y Argote which now hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
After leaving Herrera's studio when he was 12 years old, Velazquez began to serve as an apprentice under Francisco Pacheco, an artist and teacher in Seville. Though considered a generally dull, undistinguished painter, Pacheco sometimes expressed a simple, direct realism in contradiction to the style of Raphael that he was taught. Velazquez remained in Pacheco's school for five years, studying proportion and perspective and witnessing the trends in the literary and artistic circles of Seville.
He was educated by his parents to fear God and, intended for a learned profession, received good training in languages and philosophy. But he showed an early gift for art; consequently, he began to study under Francisco de Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the italian influence of the early Seville school. Velazquez remained with him for one year. it was probably from Herrera that he learned to use brushes with long bristles.
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez, or, as he is more commonly but incorrectly called, Diego Velazquez de Silva, was born at Seville, in 1599 - the same year in which Vandyck saw the light at Antwerp - and on the 16th of June he was baptised in the parish church of San Pedro. Both his parents were of gentle blood. Juan Rodriguez de Silva, his father, was descended from the great Portuguese house which traced its pedigree up to the kings of Alba Longa; and his mother, Geronima Velazquez, by whose name - according to the frequent usage of Andalusia - her son cam to be known, was born of a noble family of Seville.
Diego Velázquez was a Spanish painter whose early works were mostly religious or genre scenes. On a visit to Rome Velázquez painted a portrait of Pope Innocent X, an advanced work that announced the last stage in Velázquez's development. This portrait was copied innumerable times and won him immediate and lasting renown in Italy, furthering his reputation as one of the giants of Western art.