Gallery back

Maybe it’s because I was exhausted and suffering from a bad case of gallery back syndrome by the time I got to the Prado last week, but these two paintings, both by Velásquez, made a big impression on me as consummate images of weariness. Even the gods get tired. Mercury and Argos don’t have the strength to raise their heads, while Mars, the epitome of the professional soldier who’s seen too many battles, looks as if he’s wondering what he’ll be told to do next. Neither of these paintings, it seems to me, could have existed without the precedent of Caravaggio’s extraordinary fusion of the mundane and the divine, although I suppose it’s possible Velásquez may have seen no more than one or two examples of the Italian artist’s work and simply been influenced by a naturalistic zeitgeist. (I’ve just checked and Velásquez visited Italy twice, in 1629-30 and 1649-51, so it’s more than likely that he was perfectly familiar with Caravaggio and the influence he’d had by that time. It was during Velásquez’s second visit that he painted the extraordinary portrait of Pope Innocent X, criticised by the pontiff for being ‘too truthful’. I wonder what Mars would have said if he’d been asked.)

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2 Responses to Gallery back

  1. Philip Rand says:

    Associations with the Galleria Pamfili (for Velasquez) and Francis Bacon for his representation of the Pope. Philip Rand

  2. Yes, though I'm no fan of Bacon…

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