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Title Two Young Men Eating at a Humble Table
Collection English Heritage (Wellington Museum, Apsley House)
Artist Velázquez, Diego (Spanish painter, 1599-1660)
Date Earliest about 1618
Date Latest about 1620

Velázquez painted several such ‘scenes of everyday life' or bodegones in his early years, from 1617, when he entered the Guild of St Luke at Seville, until his final departure for Madrid in 1623. (The word bodegón means a humble public eating-place.) Related to the picaresque novels which had originated in Spain with Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), they show ordinary people eating and drinking or preparing food, and are characterised by an uncompromising realism and an ochre tonality, with strong contrasts of light and shade. In these respects they owe much to the influence of Caravaggio (to whom this work was attributed on its arrival in England), although in subject matter they are also related to the genre paintings of the sixteenth-century Flemish school.

Born in Seville, Velázquez was a pupil of Francisco Pacheco, 1613–18. He first visited Madrid in 1622, and was recalled there in the following year by the Count-Duke Olivares, minister of Philip IV. He enjoyed immediate success, was appointed court painter, and thereafter remained attached to the royal court, painting mainly portraits of the royal family and members of the court. He was in Italy in 1629–31, studying the painters of Venice, Rome and Naples, and again in 1649–51.

Current Accession Number WM 1593–1948
Subject still life; figure; everyday life
Measurements 65.3 x 104.0 cm
Material oil on canvas

Several of Velázquez's bodegones are oblong in shape, with half-length figures and prominent still lifes. In particular, the Kitchen Scene with Christ at Emmaus (National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin), Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (National Gallery, London), and the Wellington picture form a closely knit group. The precise dating of these early paintings has hitherto been largely conjectural, as only one of them was known to be dated: the Adoration of the Magi (Prado, Madrid) of 1619. More recently, however, cleaning has revealed the date 1618 on both An Old Woman cooking Eggs (National Gallery, Edinburgh) and the Kitchen Scene with Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (National Gallery, London). The two paintings are very similar in style to the Wellington picture, while the pestle and mortar and the green-glazed oil jug appear in all three of them. This bears out a date of about 1618–20 for the Wellington picture, even though it is painted on a finer canvas than the National Gallery and Edinburgh pictures.

The painting was first described by Palomino in 1724: ‘He painted another picture of two poor men eating at a humble little table where there are different earthenware vessels, oranges, bread and other things, everything observed with rare thoroughness'. It has recently been suggested that the two men, formerly identified as beggars, were in fact kitchen helpers (D. Carr in London 2006).

Dawson Carr (London 2006, p. 128) also suggests that the painting may have been in the collection of the Sevillian nobleman Fernando Enrìquez Afán de Ribera, 3rd Duke of Alcalá, (1583–1637). The source is an inventory description of Alcalá's collection in the Casade Pilatos, Seville, dated 1637, of ‘a canvas of two men, in half-length, with a small glass jar' [VI.4] (published in Brown and Kagan 1987, p. 238). The first fully authenticated location for the painting was in the collection of the Marquis de la Ensenada, as: ‘two poor person seating at a humble table': it was one of 29 pictures bought from the Ensenada collection by Charles III on 25 August 1768, and it has been fully recorded ever since (see Provenance). There are versions or copies in a collection in Seville (López-Rey 1963, no. 106) and in a collection in Rome (López-Rey 1963, no. 107; A. di Stefano, Archivo Español de Arte, XXVII, 1954, pp. 257–59).

For Velázquez see J. Camón Aznar, Velázquez, 2 vols., Madrid, 1964; J. López-Rey, Velázquez, A Catalogue Raisonné of his Oeuvre, London, 1963; 1979 edn; Cologne, 1996 edn, 2 vols.; Cologne, 1999 edn (updated by O. Delenda); J. Brown, Velázquez: Painter and Courtier, New Haven and London, 1986; L. Méndez Rodríguez, Velázquez y la cultura sevillana, Seville, 2005; F. Checa, Velázquez. The Complete Paintings, New York and London, 2008.

Rights Owner Copyright English Heritage
Author C.M. Kauffmann, revised by Susan Jenkins



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