NEW YORK – Velázquez’s portraits of a young girl (ca. 1640) and of Cardinal Camillo Astalli-Pamphili (ca. 1650), both from the collection of the Hispanic Society of America in New York City, were recently examined and treated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The removal of extremely discolored varnish layers that had masked these paintings revealed Velázquez’s remarkable technique and subtle sense of color in ways that had not been seen in more than a century.
These two works, along with five other exceptional portraits created in the final two decades of the artist’s career – including the Met’s iconic Juan de Pareja (1650) – are being presented in “Velázquez Portraits: Truth in Painting,” on view at the museum through March 12.
Although his formal state portraits of the leading figures of the Spanish monarchy are what established Velázquez (1599–1660) in his career, these bust-length likenesses he produced in Spain and during his travels in Italy are some of his most immediate and captivating images. Freed of the restrictions that apply to state and allegorical portraiture, Velázquez was able to capture in these paintings the temperaments, moods and inner reflections of the subjects. In showing them roughly life-size, and setting them against a neutral background, Velázquez invested his subjects with a timelessness that makes them powerfully affecting to this day.