Rubens Comes to Madrid III

Velazquez’s Borrachos The Drunks by Velazquez

There’s no proof that Velazquez and Rubens met, but no one doubts they did. Rubens came to Madrid on a diplomatic mission. He went directly to see the king, who invited him to copy the pictures in the royal collection. He stayed in Madrid for nine months. Who was the official court painter? Diego Velazquez. Who was in charge of the royal collection? Diego Velazquez. Who of all people in Madrid was most interested in meeting Rubens? Velazquez. Who of all people in Madrid was Rubens most interested in meeting? Its best painter, of course: Diego Velazquez.
They surely spent hours and hours together.

[Since writing this I have found the following sentence in the book by Francisco Pacheco, Velazquez’s teacher and father-in-law. This is proof enough that the two artists met and struck up a friendship.
“Con pintores [Rubens] comunicó poco, sólo con mi yerno [Velázquez] (con quien se había antes por cartas correspondido) hizo amistad, y favoreció mucho sus obras por su modestia, y fueron juntos a ver el Escorial.” El Arte de la Pintura, Ediciones Cathedra, 2001, p. 202
“With painters [Rubens] had little contact, only with my son-in-law [Velázquez] did he establish a friendship, and he favored his works by his modesty, and they went to see the Escorial together.”]

And did they watch each other paint? How not? That would have been the high point of their meeting. Rubens was a finished master, accustomed to working with other painters and to teaching them his working method. He was no doubt an excellent teacher and a generous and open mind. Back in Antwerp men like Van Dyke and Jacob Jordaens were working even then in his workshop, painting pictures under his orders. They brought them to such perfection that all Rubens had to do when he returned was to put on a few finishing touches and sign them. To this day such is the quality of these paintings that not even the experts can tell you for certain who painted them. They all look like a Rubens: they all have his stamp. Yet many of them simply couldn’t have been painted by Rubens.

So Velazquez would have watched and listened to the master with very great attention. He would never meet a greater painter, nor one who knew so much about painting.

The day surely came, too, when the two went to Velazquez’s painting rooms to see what HE had been doing. What was on the easel? Possibly, because Velazquez finished it at about this time, the Bacchus painting—the famous Drunks. Rubens must have stood before it in silence for a long time. What did he think?

It may not have been the same as he said. He was a diplomat, after all. He knew how to conceal his thoughts. Look at his pictures and you will assume he was a raving madman: they are filled with restlessness. But then you read that he was a calm, mannerly man who spoke quietly and pointedly—he didn’t babble and his tongue didn’t stutter or jerk like a pressure cooker valve from the force inside him. He had learned fine manners already as a child in an Antwerp palace, where he was a page to a countess. He knew how to behave like a gentleman and how to get along with everyone.
(See Advice from a Genius: Go to Italy)

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5 Responses to Rubens Comes to Madrid III

  1. Ion Danu says:

    I wonder if htere isn’t any written TRACE of this meeting? Did they like each others painting? Artists are pretty inpredictable and egotistical… Michelangelo, with no apparent reason, hated Leonardo with passion (and probably also Rafael…) Just wondering…

  2. 100swallows says:

    to Danu
    I read exactly that statement: that there is no documentary evidence that Velazquez and Rubens met. But now I can’t locate the source. There is also no statement by Velazquez on Rubens or his work (as far as I know). So I have to speculate on the basis of Velazquez’s style and his dislike for Rafael. He told Bernini and others when he was in Rome that he didn’t care at all for Rafael. That is one of the few opinions of his that have come down. I see Rubens as following the “drawing” artists, the conceptual artists—those that Velazquez rejected.

    Michelangelo hated Rafael all right. “All the discords that arose between Pope Julius and me,” he wrote in a letter (1542), “were owing to the envy of Bramante and Rafael de Urbino….Rafael had good reason to be envious, since what he knew of art he learned from me.”
    Both Condivi and Vasari speak of his dislike for Leonardo da Vinci but they don’t say what the rub was. Michelangelo might well have been simply jealous. Leonardo was older and had already reaped much admiration.

  3. wrjones says:

    You are a great story teller. I’m waiting for the next installment. This sort of reminds me of the Superman serials we waited for on the Saturday matinees.

  4. 100swallows says:

    Did Superman come as a continuing story? I thought each day’s show was complete.

  5. wrjones says:

    You maybe thinking of the TV version – The older movie version was a serial. As I remember at least. Of course I could have this mixed up with the Peter the Rabbit tale.

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