Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Velázquez, Juan Martínez Montañés


Martínez Montañés (1568-1649) was the greatest Spanish sculptor of the Baroque era. His medium was wood; in fact, he was known as "el dios de madera" (the god of wood) because of his skill. Here and here are examples of his work.

Velázquez has among his paintings several portraits in which the subject stands before a background so neutral that it very nearly takes on the quality of a void--see, for example, his portrait of Don Pedro de Barberana y Aparregui. What is striking about this painting is that Velázquez, in his depiction of Martínez Montañés at work, makes it appear as though the sculptor has reached into that void, shaping out of it the rough form of the bust in the lower right.

Like a painter with brushes and paints before a blank canvas, the sculptor and his knives and chisels stands before the blank canvas that is a piece of wood; each coaxes an image from a blankness. I admit to not having thought this through too much, but it would seem that this take on the artistic process isn't that far removed from Milton's notion, in Paradise Lost, of God's having shaped the universe out of unformed matter (Chaos).

9 comments:

Camille said...

What an intriguing portrait. At first glance it appears unfinished. The tangent between Juan's left sleeve and the top of the bust seems a bit awkward. The graduated background (from dark, on the top, that gradually lightens to highlight the sitters hands) seems to imply that it was deliberate. The expression on the bust seems strange, and the line on the cheek. It appears vaguely heroic and Greek, but the work you showed on the link was exclusively religious. Maybe he did other things. I haven't exhaustively searched. Perhaps this was Velasquez's quiet critique of Juan's choice of subject. ;)

R. Sherman said...

Just a quick remark.

I was thinking about the idea of sculpture, creativity and Creation in the context of the Grand Canyon, while driving out West. I've been trying to get my thoughts in order, and then I read this post.

I don't know if what I'm thinking dovetails with your last paragraph/question, but at least this entry caused me to start thinking about it again.

Perhaps a post will follow.

Cheers.

Anonymous said...

necesidad de comprobar:)

Simon Abrahams said...

You're absolutely right. Velazquez clearly intended the confusion. I believe, though, as always, that Velazquez is identifying with his subject who, therefore, as a great "painter and draughtsman" is drawing on the canvas. As in many great masterpieces, such as Manet's Le Dejeuner, the artist has fused the subject with his own creative practice: Velazquez as Montanes is painting himself, an image of Montanes.

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