"Firstly, it is important to note that this is not a general exhibition on Velázquez as it focuses on a very specific moment in his career as a court portraitist, namely his last eleven years. From the point of view of his models, compositions and use and variety of colour this is a highly distinctive period characterised by its beauty and exceptional quality. The exhibition also looks at Velázquez’s artistic legacy and how his presence was not just limited to the works created by his own hand but continued through studio products and through the endeavours of his successors, particularly Mazo and Carreño.
From the perspective of the Museo del Prado, since the time of its foundation in 1819 Velázquez has been one of the axes around which its collections have been organised. Investigating his work and contributing to its dissemination has always been one of the Museum’s responsibilities. In the case of the present exhibition, the aim is also to introduce visitors to two of the periods in his career that are least well represented in the collections: the second trip to Italy and the female and child portraits that he executed on his return to Madrid.
Within the more general context of Spain, Velázquez is one of the reference points for our collective memory. Over the centuries we have frequently used his works to reflect on ourselves and our history, in the manner of a mirror. Over time, this has resulted in an accumulation of different readings and connotations that enrich the original meanings of the works. Exhibitions such as this one aim to continue to nourish that intellectual source and to encourage reflection on ourselves, given that this event is not just about Velázquez, Mazo and Carreño but also about the royal family and how these artists were able to reflect a particularly complex moment of our past.
The exhibition’s point of reference is Las Meninas, which means that it revolves around one of the most “modern” of all Old Master paintings and one that has been of most interest to contemporary thinking. Since Picasso produced his series based on it in 1957 and Foucault published his essay in 1966, the painting has been the starting point for raising crucial questions on the laws and limits of representation, the role of the viewer, the tension between reality and illusion and the formulas to define identity. A number of these issues are also present in other works in the exhibition, which are part of the same context as the one in which Las Meninas was created.
From the 17th century in Spain and the 19th century in Europe and America, Velázquez has been one of the Old Masters most frequently reassessed by new generations of artists in a process that continues up to the present day. As a result of this process, Velázquez is a living reference point. In the case of the works in this exhibition, paintings such as Las Meninas or the portraits of the Infanta Margarita and Queen Mariana of Austria have had an extraordinary iconic value for Spanish and foreign artists, indicating the extent to which they are images with the capacity to continue generating responses from viewers. This exhibition offers an unprecedented concentration of Marianas, Margaritas and María Teresas, a gathering that we hope will prove a powerful stimulus.
In addition to being a page in the history of painting, the exhibition is a family chronicle; through these portraits visitors will make direct contact with the story of a family group, whose lives and destinies were markedly conditioned by issues of lineage and identity."
Javier Portus, Chief Curator of Spanish Painting at the Museo del Prado