Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 96

Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
Fig. 2 / Diego Velázquez,
Kitchen Scene, 1618-1620, oil
on canvas, 55.9 x 104.2 cm,
Art Institute of Chicago.
Fig. 3 / Attributted to Diego
Velázquez, Kitchen Maid, ca.
1618-1620, oil on canvas,
86.4 x 73 cm, Houston,
Museum of Fine Arts.
Thus, the study and, indeed, a kind of connoisseurship
of technical images has come to play a role in the
attribution of paintings to the hand of Velázquez.7
The characterization of outlines in paintings by
Velázquez has led, more recently, to a closer study
of replication methods used in the royal portraits
that were his first major works painted in Madrid.
It now appears that both cartoons and individual
templates for heads and hands were employed in the
creation and reproduction of the royal portraits.8
In this essay, new evidence for Velázquez’s use of
templates in paintings beyond the royal portraits will
be presented, and its implication for a methodology of
composition discussed. Tracing, cartoon, and template
are relatively imprecise technical terms, but will be used
here to define specific functions as manual copying
aids. Tracing is understood here as the act of making
a mark on a paper outlining the image being traced.
The result is also a tracing, until it is used to create 1:1
templates (a pattern whose cut-out shape follows the
outer profiles of the forms in the original image, with
no other detail) or cartoons (a 1:1 rectangular paper,
or smaller sheet for individual motifs, that carries the
outer contour lines as well as all other major lines of
the original image, including facial features, drapery
folds etc). Templates would be employed for repeating a
shape from the original image on a new surface, without
Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
details. Cartoons would contain far more information
and the lines would be transferred to the new surface by
pouncing or pressing along the traced lines with a stylus.
Technical study of Kitchen Servant (Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston) (fig. 3), now attributed to Diego Velázquez,
and further analysis of other genre scenes by the artist
have revealed evidence for manual copying aids playing
a role in the artist’s mode of composing and replicating
paintings. This interpretation adds to the growing body
of technical evidence documenting processes and
materials used by Velázquez. It also provides new
information for contextualizing his working method,
and possibly challenging our cultural preconceptions
about creative process: Art History has recently had to
accommodate the apparent employment of mechanical
or auxiliary systems for reproducing paintings in the
workshops of even the greatest artists of an age. The
studios of Titian, Barocci, and Caravaggio, and now
that of Velázquez, have been shown to have used of
templates and cartoons to make repetitions, and even
newly composed variations of existing images.9 While
possibly undermining any art historical interpretation
that places the agency of the artist’s furia at its heart,
the technical expediency prevalent in successful studios
reminds us that – together with others from Apelles to
Picasso – the early modern artist was practical.


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