Francisco PachecoCa. 1620. Oil on canvas, 41 x 36 cm.
The second half of the 16th century and the first decades of the 17th saw the rise in Spain of male bust portraits in which the model normally appears against a neutral background with no elements to indicate his profession or identity. Often, the model wears a black suit with a ruff collar to indicate his bourgeois or noble social standing. Mostly, these portraits were made for private use as personal or family mementos of their models.
The present work was painted by Velázquez before February 1623, when such collars were prohibited. Its still-stiff style and the toasted flesh tones of the sitter’s face suggest it was painted around 1620. Its quality, and the extraordinary personality of its author have led many to wonder about the model’s identity, and he is often thought to be Velázquez’s father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco, who was one of the most influential artistic and intellectual figures in Seville in his time. Based on comparison with other supposed portraits, such as to one appearing in the Adoration of the Magi (P01166), this identification was recently corroborated by the discovery and study of Pacheco’s Last Judgment (Castres, Musée Goya). The latter was long lost, but in his Art of Painting, Pacheco stated that he had depicted himself in the lower left of the composition. One of the figures there looks fixedly at the viewer, affirming his authorship of the work, and its comparison to the portrait at the Museo del Prado leaves no doubt that Velázquez was depicting his father-in-law. The elongated face, wide and clear forehead, prominent nose and most of all, the intelligent and inquisitive gaze are further proof.
In any case, this is a work of notable quality and it denotes the painter’s knowledge, not only of the traditions of early 17th-century Spanish portraiture, but more concretely of the practice of art in Seville. It is the result of wise reflection on the works of that genre that Velázquez was able to see in his native city, including paintings by masters such as Pedro de Campaña, Vázquez or Pacheco himself. All of them cultivated a type of portraiture stylistically derived from Flemish models and characterized by a taste for hard and marked profiles and facial features. Here, this is combined with a collar painted with soft, fluid brushstrokes that draws our attention to the figure’s face. And Velázquez’s rendering of that face makes very skillful use of light and shadows.
The painting’s preparation differs from Velázquez’s customary practice in Seville, and this, combined with a stylistic analysis, suggest that it may have been painted in late 1622 or the very beginning of 1623, at a moment of transition between Seville and Madrid. That would explain, for example, its similarity to the portrait of Góngora (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts).
This work is first listed among the property of Philip IV at the La Granja Palace, and thus, it has sometimes been thought to be one of many paintings that the king and his wife, Isabel de Farnesio, purchased in Seville during their stay there between 1729 and 1733 (Text from Portús, J.: : Velázquez y Sevilla, 1999, p. 204).