Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 104

Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
Looking at Pacheco’s methods beyond his adherence
to clear outlines, we see aspects of this master’s process
that are also features of Velázquez’s practice. Pacheco’s
treatise, El arte de la pintura, and his extant works, produce
an impression of this artist as one whose images were
carefully researched and meticulously assembled. A
revealing work is his Last Judgment, the composition
drawing for one of Pacheco’s major commissions,
acquired in 2010 by the Prado Museum (fig. 10).
Fig. 10 / Francisco Pacheco, Last
Judgment, 1610-1614, pen and
ink wash, over traces of black
chalk on laid paper, 55.4 x 38.7
cm, Madrid, Museo Nacional
del Prado.
Fig. 11 / Francisco Pacheco,
Last Judgment, 1610-1614,
pen and ink wash, over traces
of black chalk on laid paper,
55.4 x 38.7 cm, photographed
in transmitted light, revealing
separate papers joined
together to make up the sheet.
Careful examination showed that the drawing was
an assembly of twenty-three separate, small pieces
of paper, each carrying a discreet section of the
design, and joined together by the artist to construct
the complex overall composition (fig. 11).24 This
procedure indicates that each vignette was studied and
developed separately (indeed, Pacheco so describes it
in his lengthy discussion of the commission)25, then
inserted into its planned location in the overall design.
Such a procedure also allowed for local corrections
without having to re-draw the entire composition.
Although Pacheco used separately drawn papers on
a smaller scale, there is a resonance of that practice
with Velázquez’s apparent use of separate cartoons for
individual motifs in a painting. In both, a separately
designed and perfected element is accommodated into
a pre-set format.
Velázquez’s use of partial templates to reassemble
a composition in varied formats is curious and a
practice not widely documented. Our knowledge
regarding the nature of commissions for his bodegones
in Seville is scarce, but the number of extant works
suggests that market demand was healthy. Do the
different formats of the extant versions of Kitchen
Servant suggest that they were commissioned for
specific settings? Was the artist engaged by the
challenge of recomposing a horizontal composition
(Chicago) in a vertical format (Houston)? Or was
the Houston picture – known to have been trimmed
on left, right, and upper edges – originally also
horizontal, but in a much larger format than the
Chicago painting? What was it about this subject
that made it so apparently popular? One theory
advanced is that the underlying significance of the
kitchen servant scenes involves the seventeenth
-century debate – very much alive in Seville – over the
eternal salvation of slaves.26 Another theory focuses
on the transformation of formal sources in northern
European art for this kind of subject into a specifically
Sevillian mode of expression.27
The absence of the biblical scene in the Houston and
Chicago paintings may indicate that adding the background
scene was a client request in the Dublin version. Certainly
no material traces remain in the other versions to
suggest the background scenes were included originally.
While the use of an auxiliary aid for replication is not
positively proved by the observations set out here, initial
interpretation suggests that a traced pattern was taken
from the drawn or painted prototypes of the discreet
motifs that recur in these early bodegones, including some
figures. Unfortunately, evidence of the actual means
of transfer, such as pouncing, is not apparent in any of
the portraits or genre paintings studied to date, but this
does not indicate that they were not employed, only that
the material traces of the technique have not survived.
Indeed, Pacheco recommends brushing away with a
feather the chalk or charcoal used to determine outlines
after these were fixed in paint.28 The distinctive outlines
evident in the radiographs of early paintings record
the artist's “fixing in place” of the correct contour –
which could equally have been initially sketched by
hand, or applied to the surface by a transfer method. In
themselves, these lines are not evidence of transfer.
The replications made by Velázquez in the early
bodegones discussed so far have a compelling resonance
with Pacheco’s use of small vignettes – each one the
product of exacting iconographical and aesthetic
research – pieced together to compose a complex
whole. Did Velázquez employ such a method as an
artful means of improving upon nature by artificially
constructing his scenes of the everyday, while not
sacrificing the “true to nature” immediacy of the
figures and objects that he had observed and rendered
so closely? Or was this procedure simply motivated by
down-to-earth concerns for workshop efficiency and the
need to meet market demand? Certainly this “step-wise”
approach to composing on a two-dimensional surface
does much to clarify the sense of spatially disjointed
objects characteristic of early Velázquez images.


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