Painting for the king of Spain was a dream job. But even before Velazquez became King Philip’s royal painter, he had done very well back home in Seville.
It was clear he was going places.
He had picked up his first brush at eleven. By the time he was eighteen he had obtained his licence from the Seville painters’ guild, married his master’s daughter, and set himself up as a professional painter. In the next four years he earned enough money selling his works to buy the house he and his family lived in—and another one to rent out.
What kind of pictures did he paint then, long before he ever thought he would be making portraits of the king in Madrid?
Then as now people got a kick out of seeing the articles of their daily life painted in all detail. Diego could do that better than anyone. And he liked to include people in those still-lifes—the portraits of relatives, friends, and poor people from the streets of Seville. Another typical feature of his work was the strong, dramatic, light contrast, as he had seen it in works (reproductions) by Caravaggio.
Here is one of his most famous works from those days.
Woman Frying Eggs, in the Prado Museum, Madrid (public domain photo)
Velazquez, to show off his skill, has lined everything up on the table so artificially you might think he has gone too far. But the two figures are so well painted and brought in together with the pots and jugs and plates that Velazquez almost makes you believe you have come to that dark old kitchen to sit with them.
The woman may be pouching the eggs rather than frying them. See MarkY’s comment below.