Diego Velázquez, Los borrachos. Museo del Prado

After settling at the court in 1623, Velázquez devoted himself chiefly to portraiture, which he alternated with incursions into other genres such as sacred history, mythology and landscape. His first mythological painting was ‘Los Borrachos’, which was painted about 1629 and marks a milestone in his career. While the theme ushered in a genre to which he would subscribe until his death, many of the human figures belong to the world of his Sevillian bodegones or “kitchen scenes”. The work is also stylistically close to his early period, as the powerful realism of the faces, the palate rich in ochres the and extraordinary descriptive detail place it in the context of Caravaggesque naturalism, as does the modelling of Bacchus’ torso. It was the first and last mythological work in which the artist used this type of artistic language.Although the work has sometimes been viewed as an attempt at “demystifying” mythology by employing a burlesque attitude towards the ancient gods, the use of powerfully realistic human figures is justified by the subject-matter of the scene, which shows Bacchus mingling with mortals to bring them the gift of wine. Velázquez’s use of a naturalist language to address themes related to mythology and ancient history brought him close to other artists like Caravaggio and also his contemporary Ribera, who depicted philosophers dressed as beggars.

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