The Roman Horizon
Velázquez spent in Italy from September 1629 to the end of 1630, mostly in Rome. It was a voyage of learning in which, among other things, he studied ancient sculpture and the works of Michelangelo and Raphael. The works he produced there include the Forge of Vulcan and Joseph’s Bloodied Coat presented to Jacob, two large “history” paintings in which he sought a formula for depicting convincingly a group of people’s reaction to unexpected news: in the mythological scene, the adultery of Venus, the wife of Vulcan; and in the Bible story, the supposed death of Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons. In both works the painter displays his mastery in rendering gestures and emotions. From the point of view of narrative technique and formal construction, they mark a step forward in his career. Velázquez overcame the spatial limitations found in Feast of Bacchus (‘Los borrachos’) and succeeded in integrating space, action and human figures in a very natural manner, employing the nude in an architectural setting. This concern with expressing emotions was common to the leading artists active in Italy, who were then seeking ways of renewing classicist forms of narration. This room illustrates the qualities of several of their works dated to around 1630: from the narrative clarity of Guido Reni’s Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife and emotive nature of Guercino’s Resurrected Christ appears to the Virgin, to the compositional rigour of Poussin’s The Triumph of David.