Omaggio a Velázquez (c.1692-1700)

Giordano, Luca (1634-1705)

Omaggio a Velázquez (A Homage to Velázquez)
Oil on canvas, 205.2 x 182.2 cm
National GalleryLondon

The title of this painting originates from the idea that the man seated in the centre represents Diego Velázquez at the Spanish court, surrounded by royal personages and prominent humanists. The main figures in Velázquez’s Las Meninas (Prado Museum, Madrid) – including Velázquez himself (wearing the red cross of the Order of Santiago) and the young Spanish princess Margarita – were believed to be the central protagonists in this painting too. The two men below were thought to represent Juan de Pareja, Velázquez’s former slave and later assistant (lower left), and the Spanish writer Francisco de Quevedo (lower right).

This theory has since been discounted. A more convincing interpretation has been put forward, identifying the main figure as the Count of Santisteban, with his daughter and members of his household. On his sleeve he wears the red cross of the Order of Santiago, of which he became a member in 1672. The count was ruler (viceroy) of Naples between 1687 and 1696, after which he returned to Spain. We know that he owned a ‘large sketch’ by Luca Giordano, the description of which matches this painting. The man wearing pince-nez (spectacles without arms) is Giordano himself – the artist may have included a self portrait in reference to Velázquez doing the same in Las Meninas.

Giordano moved to Spain in 1692, and this painting probably dates from between 1696 (the year in which the count left Naples for Madrid) and 1702 (when Giordano returned to Naples). It was during his time as court painter in Spain that Giordano had the opportunity to study Velázquez’s works, which made a considerable impression on him. According to the seventeenth-century painter and biographer Antonio Palomino, the Spanish king Charles II showed Giordano Las Meninas and asked him what he thought about it. Giordano replied, ‘Sir, this is the Theology of Painting’.

Our painting was thought to be by Velázquez in the nineteenth century, when it was owned by the notable British artist Sir Edwin Landseer (1802–1873). He, like others, must have admired the work for its confident handling of paint and sketch-like quality. The artist has intentionally left the brown preparation ground exposed in a number of areas, and the figures centre left are barely worked up at all. The loose brushwork throughout gives the scene a dynamic sense of immediacy – the leaping spaniel in the foreground is a particularly lively detail. (NG)

See also:

Margarita Teresa de Austria (1651-1673) | Quevedo, Francisco de (1580-1645) | Velázquez, Diego (1599-1660)