Velazquez, The Technique of Genius
The truly awesome things about this book are, not only do we get well researched details on how Velazquez prepared his canvases and worked with his paints during all stages of his life, but it shows really close-up views of his brushwork, along with the x-rays of the paintings as it breaks down all the major ones, masterpiece-by-masterpiece. Seeing what’s underneath the paint surface gives us a real interesting glimpse into the working methods of the artist.
How the “old masters” prepared their chosen surfaces not only had a big part in how the finished painting looked, but in how the painting physically held up for centuries to come – one look at the current condition of da Vinci’s “Last Supper” illustrates that.
Prior to the mid 1800s oil colors and canvas primer (known as gesso), were not manufactured and packaged in neat little tubes ready to be used. The "plug and play" mentality we love so much today did not exist in the time of Velazquez. Painters had a lot of work to do before they could actually begin to paint. "Wallowing in the muck" of creating oil paint, as professor Simon Shama called it in his "Power of Art" documentary, was something all great painters did at one point or another in their careers. The most successful painters had studio apprentices doing all the prep work for them sooner or later.
Velazquez’s brushwork seems loose and abstract close-up, but stand back and those little areas of impasto dovetail perfectly with other, very thinly painted areas, creating textures such as sumptuous Hapsburg costumes or the hair of a horses mame. No wonder he was such a hero to a young John Singer Sargent.
Click here to see a great documentary called “Velazquez - The Painter's Painter”.
Click here for the book, which I cannot promise you is not out of print.