Diego Velázquez was the most prominent Spanish painter of Baroque period. He is also considered one of the greatest artist that ever lived, hugely admired for the unique sense of reality in his portraits. His painting style is characterised by simplicity and dignity, sober palette and fluid brushstroke.
In 1623 he became the court painter of Philip IV, the King of Spain, the most powerful ruler at the time. Velázquez remained the official painter to the king for the rest of his life. At Madrid court he became acquainted with works of Titian and Peter Paul Rubens. It was Rubens himself, who suggested to Velázquez a trip to Italy to study the Italian masters.
During his second trip to Italy Velázquez caused a sensation when he exhibited the portrait of his assistant and a slave, Juan de Pareja. The painting was admired for its lifelike quality. Velázquez became to only painter in Rome to be allowed to paint the portrait of the Pope Innocent X. This resulted in the extraordinary portrait, which continues to astonish audiences and to influence artists to this day.
“Portrait of Innocent X” by Velázquez had a great influence on Francis Bacon, who painted the famous “Study after Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope Innocent X”, a distorted and dramatic version, and the first in a series of about 50 variants of the Velázquez’s painting.
Velázquez painted his masterpiece “Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour)” at the end of his life. Its meaning is mysterious and its composition very complex, shifting between reality and illusion. This marvelous example of Baroque painting has been one of the most widely analysed and highly influential works of art. Pablo Picasso painted no less than 58 interpretations of “Las Meninas”. French philosopher Michel Foucault analysed “Las Meninas” in his work “The Order Of Things”: “We are looking at a picture in which the painter is in turn looking out at us. A mere confrontation, eyes catching one another’s glance, direct looks superimposing themselves upon one another as they cross. And yet this slender line of reciprocal visibility embraces a whole complex network of uncertainties, exchanges, and feints. The painter is turning his eyes towards us only in so far as we happen to occupy the same position as his subject.”
Due to his immense impact on artists of all periods and genres, Velázquez is, as called by Édouard Manet after seeing his work in the Prado in 1865, the “painter’s painter”.
“I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art.”
– Diego Velázquez
Velázquez’s magnum opus “Las Meninas” probably has been analysed more than any other work of art. The painting is very complex and one could spend hours discussing it, but since I’m not an art critic I’ll leave the broad analysis to the professionals.
The painting shows Velázquez’s atelier in the Royal Alcazar palace of Madrid. We see the artist himself at the easel and several other figures from the Spanish court. In the spotlight stands the young Infanta Margaret Theresa, the only surviving child of the king. She is surrounded by her maids of honour. In the foreground we see two dwarfs and a dog, in the background princess’ chaperone and a bodyguard. All the way in the back queen,s chamberlain is coming in or leaving the room. Finally we can see a royal couple in the reflection in the mirror on the back wall. The whole picture seems to be a capture of a family moment, a snapshot.
It is uncertain who the painter is painting. Is the royal couple posing or are they the spectators? The painter, princess and one of the dwarfs seem to be looking straight at us, the viewers. Or are they looking at the king and queen who are positioned outside the canvas? Perhaps we are watching the scene through their eyes?
For farther information on the meaning and the complex composition of this painting I send you to this comprehensive analysis on YouTube
I wanted to make a dish that is princess worthy and reflects the Baroque style. My Baroque Salad is full of complex flavours and beautiful colours. It is elegant and fancy, perfect for a special occasion.
The berries and pomegranate seeds are like jewels on princess’s dress.
The sophisticated combination of the sweetness of caramelized figs and tanginess of blue cheese would satisfy any royal.
If you use a mild blue cheese, like this Fourme d’Ambert, you may be able to convince even the most radical blue cheese haters, just like I did.
Toasted walnuts add an extra dimension to the salad.
Finally all this is topped with delicious honey dressing. One could say that this salad is truly a lady’s dish.
For caramelized figs
- 6 fresh Black Mission or Brown Turkey figs
- 100-150g blue cheese
- a cube of warm butter
- cane sugar
- few sprigs of fresh thyme
- freshly ground black pepper
- Mesclun or mixed lettuce, like green and red leaf, oak leaf, frisée
- 1 Belgian endive
- 70g walnuts, shelled
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 2 tsp honey
- 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Place the walnut halves in a single layer on the hot, dry pan and toast, constantly keeping an eye on and stirring frequently, until the walnuts start to brown and they smell toasted, about 5 minutes. Be very careful to not burn the walnuts! Transfer the walnuts to a plate to let them cool. Break them up into smaller pieces before putting on a salad.
Wash and dry the lettuce and arrange in a big bowl together with fruit and walnuts, leaving 6 nut halves to top the figs.
Whisk olive oil, honey and vinegar in a small bowl.
Wash and dry the figs. Cross cut them from the top with a sharp knife half way through avoiding to cut the base of the fruit. Coat the figs with butter using a pastry brush. Toss them with cane sugar to cover evenly. Place the figs on a heatproof flat dish and burn the sugar with crème brûlée torch until caramelized. If you don’t have a kitchen torch you can caramelize the figs in the oven under a hot grill for about 5 minutes.
Carefully spread the quarters of each fig open and stuff them with crumbled blue cheese. Top the figs with thyme and walnut halves. Season with black pepper.
Serve the caramelized figs with salad and dressing. Enjoy this fancy dish with some old port!