Velázquez is recognized as the leading Spanish painter of the seventeenth century and as one of the greatest masters of the art. He was born in Seville in 1599, the son of parents of the lower nobility or gentry. His teacher was the painter-theorist Francisco Pacheco, who introduced his pupil to the techniques of painting and provided him with a grounding in artistic theory.
In 1623, Veláquez obtained the appointment of painter to Philip IV, whom he served at the court in Madrid for the rest of his life. During the 1620s he struggled to consolidate his position in the face of competition from the senior court painters. After a trip to Italy from 1629 to 1630, Velázquez was inspired to create his original style of painting, based on the notational application of pigment to create effects of light and color that approximate these natural phenomena to an extraordinary degree.
The decade of the 1630s was the artist's most productive period, as he created pictures for the newly constructed palace of the Buen Retiro and the Torre de la Parada, a hunting lodge near Madrid.
In the 1640s, Velázquez began to curtail his activity as a painter to devote himself to the personal service of the king. The motive for this decision seems to lie in a desire to enhance his social status and thus to increase the prestige of his art. As he rose in the court hierarchy, he painted fewer and fewer pictures, yet he never ceased to develop his style. Around 1656 much of his time
was devoted to assisting the king with the installation of the royal picture collection. He died in 1660, after returning from an exhausting trip to the Franco-Spanish border in attendance on the king and his court.
[Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 116.]