Portrait of Gaspar de Guzman, Count-Duke Olivares by Diego Velázquez

circa 1638

Unlike most of his contemporaries Diego Velázquez painted very few pictures on religious subjects, concentrating mainly on the portrait. He produced some excellent portraits of Philip IV of Spain. The king was an admirer of his work and even had a key to Velázquez studio and his special chair where he would sit watching the artist at work. Velázquez also frequently painted Count Olivares – king’s favorite and a clever but cruel statesman who took advantage of Philip’s week will. This portrait is an outstanding example of the psychological portraiture in Catholic Europe in those days. The person we see in the portrait is a significant political figure in Spain of the XVII century. Philip IV of Spain (1605 – 1665) ascended Spanish throne in 1621 when he was just 16 years old, and like his father, had no interest in politics and state matters. He let the power go so it was gone into the hands of Count Olivares who was a close friend of the young king. Olivares was greedy and power – a thirsty person. Velázquez was commissioned an official portrait of Count Olivares. It was the time of inquisition in Spain, besides, the most powerful person in the country was supposed to be idealized in the official painting according to the rules of those days. Nevertheless here we see quite realistic psychological depiction of Olivares – far from being a handsome middle – aged man with suspicious expressions on his face. Velasquez shows us the personality of the Regent – clever, alert, but sly at the same time.

The profound realism and democratic spirit of Velázquez’s painting, his interest in the ordinary people and his technical skill greatly influenced Spanish artists.