Velázquez, Painter and Courtier by Jonathan Brown is a voyage through the life of one of the great Baroque artists, Diego de Silva y Velázquez. Brown considers Velázquez life from both an artistic point of view and a biographical point of view. The purpose for Brown is to place Velázquez work "in the wider context of seventeenth century painting and theory." According to Brown, this is somewhat difficult to do because Velázquez was certainly not the normal artist for the time.
Velázquez was different in a number of ways. For one, Velázquez was very well educated, especially for an artist. Second, he had extensive time in which he travelled around Europe viewing foreign artists and their works. Finally, and most importantly, the patronages he received from Philip IV removed him from the normal "mainstream" of Baroque art in Spain. Brown claims that these reasons also contribute to Velázquez "attempting to find a new approach to the goals and methods of the art of painting." Still, Brown points out that their is little written evidence of Velázquez as either an artist or thinker on art. It is very difficult to understand the inner life of Velázquez because we lack the personal documents necessary. This makes it hard to understand Velázquez as a person with emotion instead of merely a man who can paint.
Brown felt that it would be especially interesting to understand Velázquez the man later in life as his career as a painter is changed. As Velázquez career progresses, the quality of his work noticeably declines. Brown attributes this mostly to the fact that Philip IV wanted Velázquez to create a display for all of the artistic masterpieces he had collected from other artists. After 1640, Velázquez was spending a larger and larger portion of his time as this "court decorator" and not as an individual painter. Clearly, Velázquez was aware that he was painting less and would probably not have liked this idea. This is the dilemma which Velázquez must face, his reputation as a gentlemen and supporter of the Catholic church or his ability as an artist.
By pointing out some of the difficulties of understanding Velázquez life on a human level, Brown is allowing opening up the mind of the reader to a much bigger level. This new flexibility gives the reader the ability to think in their own minds what Velázquez may have been thinking, not only what he was painting. The best part about this is simply that both a beginner and expert on the life of Velázquez is capable of forming a reasonable opinion about him. It humanizes Velázquez, a difficult task considering the lack of documentation on him on a personal basis.
The chronology of the book is particularly interesting. Brown does not break down Velázquez life by year (this...