The Politics of Painting: Velázquez and Diplomacy in the Court of Philip IV
The influence of Diego Velázquez on the history of art cannot be overstated, but studies to date have not taken note of his impact on Spanish politics during the mid-seventeenth century. In short, Velázquez was as much a politician as an artist, his position in the Spanish court required both responsibilities. In the years 1659-1660 the painter played an especially remarkable role in the affairs of state when he was called upon to make court preparations for the Paz de los Pirineos, a peace accord ending nearly thirty years of war between the two reigning European superpowers, France and Spain. The treaty was contingent upon the royal marriage of the Spanish princess María Teresa, daughter of king Philip IV, to French king Louis XIV (Philip’s nephew). In simple terms, we might say Velázquez’s involvement in the treaty and wedding celebrations appeared only to be artistic: he produced a few paintings, chose tapestries, sculptures, paintings, and furniture for exhibition, and determined the precise placement of other works of art for the treaty negotiations in Madrid, and also for the wedding celebrations near the Spanish border with France. However, in light of the importance European courts placed upon aesthetics and their ability to project certain attitudes, Velázquez’s actions had theoretical and real political consequences for the success of the treaty and marriage. His decisions set the overall tone for political events, and helped shaped their outcome. This study recontextualizes the courtly celebrations of the Peace of the Pyrenees to examine how Velázquez’s role had ideological implications on European diplomacy, thus highlighting his political contributions as statesman in early modern Spain.
This article is from Letras Hispanas 3 (Fall 2006). Posted with permission.