Colnaghi Foundation Journal 03 - Page 98

Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
Fig. 4 / Diego Velázquez, Sor
Jerónima de la Fuente, 1620,
oil on canvas, 160 x 110 cm,
Madrid, Museo del Prado.
Fig. 5 / Diego Velázquez,
Philip IV, ca. 1623-1628, oil
on canvas, 198 x 101.5 cm,
Madrid, Museo del Prado.
Velázquez composes: prototypes, replicas, and transformations
As early as 1983, radiographs of Velázquez’s royal
portraits indicated a practice of making autograph
replicas of high quality.10 This possibility immediately
posed challenges to connoisseurship in determining
authorship in replicas of high quality. Two principal
features emerged from this early study of radiographic
images: (1) prominent outlines consisting of radioopaque pigments (seen as bright white lines in the
radiographic image) carefully contouring the figure in a
manner reminiscent of Pacheco’s instructions to “make
the contour lines as dextrously, and correctly as if they
were to remain thus and not proceed until the Painter
is satisfied that those outlines have much likeness with
those of the person portrayed”;11 (2) radiographic
images also make clear that a portrait retained by the
artist could become the site of subsequent editing and
redrafting of the monarch’s image.12 This agrees with
the logical practice of an artist keeping a reference
image or prototype as the model for replicas made
by the master himself, by his studio assistants, or by
both. After all, in Velázquez, as pintor de cámara from
1626, was vested the unique privilege of taking the
likeness of the king or his family in the royal presence.
Such primary portraits were the point of departure
for all repetitions of the monarch’s image and thus
constituted an artistic commodity invested with
artistic, historical, and political authority added to the
mysterious emanation of the true image of the king. For
Velázquez’s early portrayals of Philip IV, there is strong
evidence that cartoons or templates played a role in
repetitions of the authorized image of the monarch.13
Even in portraits executed by other artists, the king’s
head and features coincided exactly with the forms
produced by Velázquez.14 The truth-carrying outlines
of the image observed, and then perfected through
the artist’s knowledge and invención, are preserved
immutable in Velázquez’s cartoons. This fixity of the
image resonates with the actual stillness of the Spanish
Habsburg monarchs when they gave an audience,
projected against a background of a world where
“there is nothing stable, perpetual, nor permanent”.15
The focus of numerous technical studies, royal portrait
replicas are in a category apart because of the social
and political parameters of their creation.16
Technical study has also informed our understanding
of repetitions beyond the category of royal portraits.
For example, in his portrayal of Sor Jerónima de la Fuente
(fig. 4), made in 1620 at the respective ages of artist and
sitter of 22 and 60, Velázquez must have been aware
of the potential for his prototype to be the “true image”
of a woman in all likelihood destined for sainthood.17
Keeping a cartoon – or a painted prototype – for
replication was logical for such a commission (and a good
business strategy). The precise coincidence of the outer
contours of the figure and drapery, as well as the sitter’s
features in all three extant paintings of Sor Jerónima
supports the conclusion that a cartoon was used to create
such exact copies.18 Here is a case where the entire figure
was replicated exactly. In contrast, it is now understood
that Philip IV (New York, Metropolitan Museum) was
composed using separate partial cartoons for the hands
and face – not an overall cartoon – to transfer the exact
contours of hand and face to the canvas for constructing
the figure of the king whose costume, and even pose,
might be varied, while the likeness remained ever true
(fig. 5). 19 The demands of verisimilitude, decorum,
and practical efficiency make the use of templates and
cartoons not especially surprising in the standardized
images of monarch or beata. In the apparently less formal
genre scenes or bodegones, however, the use of prototypes
and replication is less expected, although not without
precedent, at least for flower paintings.20
Technical study undertaken during the restoration
treatment of Kitchen Servant (Museum of Fine Arts,
Houston) (see fig. 3) has revealed the contribution of
replication to Velázquez’s mode of composition in scenes
incorporating both figures and still life. There are three
extant versions of Velázquez’s composition of a kitchen
servant, for a moment paused, motionless, at her work,
behind a table displaying a sparse still life of crockery: in


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