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El Niño de Vallecas
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
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Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y

Sevilla, 1599 - Madrid, 1660

Miniatura autor

El Niño de Vallecas

1635 - 1645. Oil on canvas, 107 x 83 cm.

In the foreground of this canvas, a figure dressed in green holds in his hands what appears to be a pack of cards and looks directly at the viewer, as if to invite us to participate in the game. He is in the countryside, seated under the protection of a rocky crag. Behind him is a landscape that ends in a range of mountains on the horizon. Velázquez painted the portrait around 1638, and it presents various features that distinguish it from other European painting from the period: namely, the sitter´s pose and expression, his surroundings and the brushwork. Several of these characteristics are related to the model´s identity and the place for which the painting was presumably executed. The sitter has been identified as Francisco Lezcano, a dwarf from the Basque Country whose relationship to the royal court is documented between 1634 and 1649, the year he died. At the royal palace, he was in the service of Crown Prince Baltasar Carlos. His small stature suggests some sort of physical handicap, which in itself would have made him an object of sufficient curiosity to receive the attention of the king and the court. In addition, however, he seems to have suffered from mental retardation, perhaps due to congenital hypothyroidism or cretinism. The sitter’s identity thus explains his pose and expression. He is seated in a manner that is completely informal and relaxed, in an attitude that would be unthinkable in a portrait of any other sort of person; indeed, his almost insolent gaze would be inappropriate according to the conventions of the genre. Velázquez makes his small stature more evident with the foreshortening of his right leg and by the presence of the wide-brimmed hat beneath his foot, providing a convenient gauge of Lezcano´s size. The technical freedom with which the artist has executed the painting is astonishing. His masterful manner of laying on the colours, of which green tones predominate, combines wide, long brushstrokes with quick touches of the brush that enable him, for example, to produce the prodigious modelling of the sitter´s sleeves. Velázquez used this same highly effective yet summary approach in his representation of Lezcano´s face, in which he has avoided an excessively detailed description of the features, seeking, instead, a more general effect that transcribes not only his expression but also a sense of liveliness. In his portraits of dwarfs and jesters, Velázquez made extraordinary use of the freedom that such subjects afforded him in terms of composition, poses and expressions, making these works among the most extraordinary and artistically liberated in the history of portraiture. The first surviving mention of this painting is from 1701, when it was hung in the Torre de la Parada and was accompanied by three other images of dwarfs by Velázquez. The background suggests it is very likely that the painting was designed to hang in that building, for it is, in fact, clearly recognisable as the western part of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range. Mount Abantos is the peak behind his left elbow and, below it, the palace of El Escorial is suggested by a few light touches of white. It is an area of the Guadarrama range that is clearly visible from the Torre de la Parada. Thus, with this painting, Velázquez not only offers us a vera effigies (true image) of a palace dwarf but also a record of the natural scenery around Madrid. This fragment of landscape presents a blend of Velázquez´s remarkable capacity for synthesis as well as his desire to transmit lived experience. The deliberately naturalistic quality in his landscapes distinguishes his art from other European painters´ from this period, and it is a facet of his work that would be much esteemed by artists in the second half of the nineteenth century. Velázquez´s portrait of Francisco Lezcano demonstrates his experimentation in representing the diversity of human expression and his quest for a truthful and frank communication of the sentiments conveyed by a landscape. It is masterpieces such as this one that help us to understand and appreciate this artist´s remarkable uniqueness (Text from Portús, J.: Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado, Queensland Art Gallery-Art Exhibitions Australia, 2012, p. 94).


Technical data

Inventory number
Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y
El Niño de Vallecas
1635 - 1645
High/Height: 107 cm.; Width: 83 cm.
Royal Collection (Torre de la Parada, El Pardo-Madrid, 1703-1711; Torre de la Parada, 1714; Royal Palace of El Pardo, "pieza séptima", 1747, s.n.; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "cuarto del infante don Javier", 1772, n. 931; New Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1794, n. 931; Royal Palace, Madrid, "pieza de trucos", 1814-1818, n. 931).

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Other inventories +

Inv. Felipe V, El Pardo, 1747. Núm. s. n..
Pieza septima [...] Ôtro Bufon con una baraja de naypes, sobre puertas ... 3000

Inv. Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1772. Núm. 931.
Quarto del Infante Don Xavier [...] {13102} 931 / Pardo = Otro [retrato] de vn muchacho o enano de vara y tercia de alto y vara de ancho original de Velazquez

Inv. Testamentaría Carlos III, Palacio Nuevo, 1794. Núm. 931.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {41} 931 y 932 / Dos [quadros] de vara y tercia de alto y vara de ancho: El niño de Ballecas el uno, y el otro retrato de un Filosofo con un libro, en la mano a seis mil reales cada uno importa doce mil reales: Velazquez ... 12.000

Inv. Fernando VII, Palacio Nuevo, 1814-1818. Núm. 931.
Pieza de Trucos [...] {21176-21177} 931 y 932 / El niño de Vallecas = retrato de un filósofo

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 284.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 284.
Velazquez. / 284. Retrato llamado el Niño Vallecas. / Sentado en el suelo, con la cabeza descubierta y / vestido de verde. (C.N.) / Alto 3 pies, 10 pulg; ancho 2 pies, 11 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1098.
1098.-El Niño de Vallecas. / Alto 1,07. Ancho 0,83.-Lienzo. / "El niño de Vallecas que te presenta Velazquez, / lector amigo, sentado en uno especie de ribazo en me- / dio de un campo quebrado, no es todavía un enano for- / mal y sazonado; pero lo será en breve, porque en breve, porque la he- / chura de sus canillas y la propension de su cogote á / sumirse entre los hombros, le presagian patizambo y / de marca ruin; y aunque al parecer apénas frisa en los / doce abriles, su gesto entre socarron y bobalías le de- / nuncian como truhan de lo fino y como genuino lobato / que mamó leche de...

Exhibitions +

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
16.12.2012 - 31.03.2013

Retratos de España. Obras maestras del Prado. Brisbane / Houston
Houston TX
12.12.2012 - 01.04.2013

Retratos de España. Obras maestras del Prado. Brisbane / Houston
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

Portrait of Spain. Masterpieces from the Prado
Brisbane, Australia,
21.07.2012 - 04.11.2012

18.10.2006 - 21.01.2007

The Spanish Portrait: From El Greco to Picasso
20.10.2004 - 06.02.2005

From El Greco to Dalí: Spanish Masters and their Followers
27.02.2003 - 18.05.2003

23.01.1990 - 31.03.1990

Nueva York NY
28.09.1989 - 07.01.1990

Location +

Room 015 (On Display)

Update date: 15-12-2015 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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