Portrait of Sebastián de Morra

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Portrait of Sebastián de Morra
Velázquez – Bufón don Sebastián de Morra (Museo del Prado, c. 1645).jpg
Sebastian De Morra sitting on the ground against a plain background gives the portrait a psychoanalysis of De Morra's resentment of his own nature.
ArtistDiego Velázquez
Yearc. 1644
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions106.5 cm × 81.5 cm (41.9 in × 32.1 in)
LocationMuseo del Prado, Madrid

The Portrait of Sebastián de Morra is a painting by Diego Velázquez of Sebastian de Morra, a court dwarf and jester at the court of Philip IV of Spain. It was painted around 1644 and is now in the Prado in Madrid.[1] Not much is documented about De Morra's life, other than the fact that he was brought to Spain by Phillip IV in 1643 and served the court for three years before his death in 1649.[2] It wasn't until Velázquez became a court painter that he showed dwarfs with a warmer and naturalistic style compared to previous paintings.[3] De Morra looks directly at the viewer, motionless, making no hand gestures, leading one critic to suggest that the painting represents a denunciation of the court's treatment of de Morra and other dwarfs.[4] However, recently discovered inventories and previous documents relating to De Morra reveal that it could be known by a different name, El Primo.[5]

Subject[edit]

Don Sebastian de Morra[edit]

Sebastián de Morra was acquired by King Phillip IV in 1643 from his younger brother Cardinal Infante Fernando.[2] He was then given over to Prince Baltasar Carlos until the prince's death sometime after.[6] De Morra's job was to keep the prince entertained with humor.[3] Following the death of Prince Carlos, De Morra died in October 1649 after 3 years of service to the court.[3] An analysis of the canvases on which portraits of De Morra and Phillip IV were painted, conducted by the Thread Count Automation Project, lead to the conclusion that they were both painted from the same piece of cloth.[5] This conclusion revealed that De Morra's portrait was painted in Fraga, along with Philip's portrait.[5]

Court dwarfs[edit]

Known as sabandijas, 'little serpents', court jester dwarfs were employed by kings as far back as the medieval period.[7] Being either born with a deformity or deformed on purpose at the time of birth, court jesters became slaves to the royal court and family.[8] Because they were seen as entertainment, dwarfs were no longer painted as symbolic figures and instead with a realistic style.[9] Since dwarfs were so prominent in court life, they were also included in paintings with multiple figures[9] Previous Spanish court painters before Velázquez painted dwarfs with coldness carelessness, since dwarfs were seen as human pets.[10] Dwarfs were also painted with extreme stiffness and disdain for them was also visible in their portraits.[11] Court dwarfs were portrayed in paintings as the property of their masters, being summoned back and forth at their master's request.[12] Typically, dwarfs were painted as being obedient and as under the ownership of their masters by placing their hands on the dwarf's head.[13] Dwarfs were seen as only one class higher than animals status-wise.[13] Dwarfs were often painted holding an animal of some kind when with their masters.[13] However, dwarfs with artistic or literature abilities were spared from having to train and play with animals.[13] Art historian Enriqueta Harris stated that Velázquez's paintings of dwarfs did not belong in the same space as classical paintings that he had done as well.[3] However, Catherine Closet-Crane, author of a critical essay about Velázquez's dwarf portraits, states that the portraits were in fact meant to be seen with other Velázquez portraits.[3] She even discusses that the portraits could also be seen along side some of Ruben's portraits, such as of philosophers Democritus and Heraclitus. [3] Dwarfs were commonly painted from the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries, but their prominence in art declined afterwards.[14]

Artist[edit]

Work as court painter[edit]

Diego Velázquez was born on 1599 in Seville, Spain where he carried out his painting career until he eventually moved to Madrid at age 24.[15] Diego Velázquez's naturalistic style was one of Spain's first introduction to the Caravaggio style that was sweeping across Europe. [15] Velázquez was soon employed as the court painter to Philip IV of Spain in 1628 (age 29).[16] During his time as court painter, Velázquez's work focused mainly on paintings for royal apartments and the court.[16] Diego Velázquez's first piece for King Phillip IV was when he was hired to paint his portrait by the Count Duke of Olivares.[15] A court painter's job was to depict the royal family and the court in a positive light. Velázquez's painting so impressed King Phillip that he hired Velasquez as the chamber's painter, with administrative duties being among a few of the other jobs he also held in the palace.[15] Velázquez is known for having completed at least ten dwarf portraits.[17] These paintings are on display in the Prado in Madrid.[17]

Visual analysis[edit]

Composition and style[edit]

Famous for capturing great detail in his realistic style paintings, Velázquez demonstrates these qualities in his portrait of Sebastián de Morra. [18] By painting Morra from a straight-on view, Velázquez managed to highlight Morra's obvious resentment of his physical nature and the disability itself.[19] De Morra is placed against a plain dark background with no objects in sight.[3] The structure of the painting was originally oval instead of a square, as evident in markings on the canvas.[20] Missing pieces in the corners are also evidence that the canvas was meant to be fit in an oval stretcher.[21] In 1734 a fire destroyed the Real Alcazar of Madrid where the portrait of De Morra was held.[21] This could have been the reason the canvas was cut irregularly, to save it from further fire damage.[21] The wall in the painting itself is believed to have been scorched by a fire of unknown origin.[20] The lack of a background leads to the conclusion that De Morra is alienated from the outside world and a normal social life.[22] De Morra's right side of his face is in shadow due to the tilted angle of his head and light source on the left.[20] The light source helps to ground the figure, for it would have appeared he was floating in space in a otherwise dark background.[3] The white collar and cuffs on De Morra's outfit are made out of expensive lace material, which cause the viewer to pay closer attention to his hands and face.[3] The red and gold trimmed cape around his figure help draw the viewers gaze from the cape towards his face.[3] The cape and collar around De Morra's head bare a similar appearance to the military coat worn by Philip IV. De Morra's hands are resting on his side, in which Velázquez did not include any finger appendages.[3]

Artist's personal view[edit]

Diego Velázquez's decency was one of his most well known characteristics, which was illustrated in his portraits of dwarfs and fools. Contrary to common Spanish criticism, Velázquez painted dwarfs because he felt there was beauty in painting truth, not simply to capture ugliness.[23] Instead of depicting dwarfs as simple deformed entertainers, Velázquez showed dwarfs with humanity that at times surpassed other men of the court.[3] Velazquez showed his sympathy for court jesters in his paintings/studies after being surrounded by dwarfs for years on while employed by the royal court. [24] Velázquez painted dwarfs with the same humanity that he did for the royal family in order to wanted to show that dwarfs were no less as human beings.[14] However, while Velázquez's naturalistic and charitable depictions of the invalids and dwarfs maintained by the court strongly suggests he, as court painter, felt some empathy with their situation, the painter's opinions are never specifically stated in any documented fashion.[25] As slaves to the royal court though, Velázquez took it upon himself to illustrate how court jesters felt and were seen as to the rest of the world.[26] Velázquez's closer than otherwise normal studies of court jesters are concluded as a result of his admiration of their jokes and humor.[27]

Identification controversy[edit]

There has been some arguments made that the Portrait of Sebastián De More is actually that of another dwarf known as "El Primo."[5] A bill from the Archivo de Palacio states that a dwarf painted at Fraga is actually named El Primo.[5] El Primo was previously known to have been the nickname of another dwarf, Diego de Acedo.[5] El Primo was first identified to be the name of the portrait of De Acedo in a catalogue by Pedro de Madrazo in 1872.[5] The portrait was previously unnamed until Madrazo matched a description of a painting the King received with similar clothing to the portrait of De Acedo.[5] The problem is that other inventories have identified De Morra's portrait as El Primo as well.[28] In 1952, José Manuel Pita published a inventory list from 1689 of the Marquess of Carpio in Madrid that describes the painting of De Morra in specific detail, named as El Primo.[28] A later inventory from 1692 of the same collector also gives the name El Primo to De Morra's portrait.[28] What is known about the El Primo is that he was a buffoon who worked for the Count-Duke Olivares.[28] It is documented that Diego de Acedo was the equivalent of a modern day civil servant for the house and was not a buffoon, leading to the conclusion that De Acedo and El Primo were not the same person.[28] Due to the contradicting nature of multiple documents and inventories, it is impossible to definitively resolve this mystery.[29]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Buffoon El Primo - The Collection". Museo Nacional del Prado. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  2. ^ a b Brown, Dale M. (1972). The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. New York: Time-Life. p. 131.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Dwarfs as seventeenth-century cynics at the court of Philip IV of Spain: a study of Velazquez' portraits of palace dwarfs. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  4. ^ Andreas Prater, "The Baroque" in The masters of western painting, Taschen, 2005, page. 270, ISBN 3-8228-4744-5
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h D'ors, Pablo Perez; Johnson, Richard (2012). "Velazquez in Fraga: a new hypothesis about the portraits of El Primo and Philip IV". The Burlington Magazine. 154 (1314): 623. JSTOR 41812780.
  6. ^ Lopez-Rey, Jose (1963). Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre. London: Faber and Faber. p. 267.
  7. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. pp. 171–172.
  8. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. p. 171.
  9. ^ a b Adelson, Betty M. (2005). The Lives of Dwarfs: The Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press. p. 146.
  10. ^ Brown, Dale M. (1972). The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. New York: Time-Life. p. 120.
  11. ^ Brown, Dale M. (1972). The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. New York: Time-Life. p. 124.
  12. ^ Brown, Dale M. (1972). The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. New York: Time-Life. p. 124.
  13. ^ a b c d Adelson, Betty M. (2005). The Lives of Dwarfs: The Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. p. 147.
  14. ^ a b Adelson, Betty M. (2005). The Lives of Dwarfs: The Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick, N.J. : Rutgers University Press. p. 150.
  15. ^ a b c d "Velázquez, Diego Rodríguez de Silva y - The Collection". Museo Nacional del Prado. Retrieved 2019-04-18.
  16. ^ a b Edgar, Andrew (2003). "Velazquez and the representation of dignity". Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy. 6 (2): 111–121. doi:10.1023/A:1024162811282 – via Springer Standard Collection.
  17. ^ a b Adelson, Betty M. (2005). The Lives of Dwarfs: The Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press. p. 149.
  18. ^ Hajar, Rachel (2009-04-01). "Dwarf sitting on the floor". Heart Views. 10 (2): 84. ISSN 1995-705X.
  19. ^ Brown, Dale M. (1972). The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. New York: Time-Life. p. 131.
  20. ^ a b c Trapier, Elizabeth Du Gue (1948). Velazquez. New York: Printed by Order of the Trustees. p. 278.
  21. ^ a b c D'ors, Pablo Perez; Johnson, Richard (2012). "Velázquez in Fraga: a new hypothesis about the portraits of El Primo and Philip IV". The Burlington Magazine. 154 (1314): 622. JSTOR 41812780.
  22. ^ "Dwarfs as seventeenth-century cynics at the court of Philip IV of Spain: a study of Velazquez' portraits of palace dwarfs. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2019-05-05.
  23. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. p. 175.
  24. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. pp. 171–172.
  25. ^ For a representation of a court dwarf in Medici Court, see Niccolò Cassana.
  26. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. p. 172.
  27. ^ Riggs, Arthur Stanley (1947). Velazquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. p. 173.
  28. ^ a b c d e D'ors, Pablo Perez; Johnson, Richard (2012). "Velázquez in Fraga: a new hypothesis about the portraits of El Primo and Philip IV". The Burlington Magazine. 154 (1314): 624. JSTOR 41812780.
  29. ^ D'ors, Pablo Perez; Johnson, Richard (2012). "Velázquez in Fraga: a new hypothesis about the portraits of El Primo and Philip IV". The Burlington Magazine. 154 (1314): 625. JSTOR 41812780.


References[edit]

  • Adelson, Betty M. The Lives of Dwarfs: The Journey from Public Curiosity Toward Social Liberation. New Brunswick, N.J: Rutgers University Press, 2005. Internet resource. https://archive.org/details/livesofdwarfs00bett
  • Andreas Prater, "The Baroque" in The masters of western painting, Taschen, 2005, page 270, ISBN 3-8228-4744-5
  • Brown, Dale M. The World of Velázquez, 1599-1660. Rev. ed. New York: Time-Life, 1972. Print. Time-Life Library of Art.
  • D'ORS, PABLO PÉREZ, et al. “Velázquez in Fraga: a New Hypothesis about the Portraits of El Primo and Philip IV.” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 154, no. 1314, 2012, pp. 620–625. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/41812780?seq=1#metadata_info_tab_contents
  • "Dwarfs as seventeenth-century cynics at the court of Philip IV of Spain: a study of Velazquez' portraits of palace dwarfs.." The Free Library. 2005 University of Puerto Rico, Faculty of Arts and Sciences 05 May. 2019 https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Dwarfs+as+seventeenth-century+cynics+at+the+court+of+Philip+IV+of...-a0170372826
  • Edgar, Andrew. "Velázquez and the Representation of Dignity." Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 6.2 (2003): 111-21. Web.
  • Hajar R. Dwarf sitting on the floor. Heart Views 2009;10:84. http://www.heartviews.org/text.asp?2009/10/2/84/63758
  • López-Rey, José. Velázquez: A Catalogue Raisonné of His Oeuvre. London: Faber and Faber, 1963. Print.
  • Riggs, Arthur Stanley. Velázquez,: Painter of Truth and Prisoner of the King. 1st Ed.]. ed. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1947. Print.
  • "The Buffoon El Primo - The Collection". Museo Nacional del Prado. Retrieved 2019-04-25.
  • Trapier, Elizabeth Du Gué. Velazquez. New York: Printed by Order of the Trustees, 1948. Print. Hispanic Notes & Monographs; Essays, Studies, and Brief Biographies. Peninsular Ser.
  • Veatch, Laura. "Made in God’s Image: Velazquez’s Portraits of Dwarves." https://www.lagrange.edu/resources/pdf/citations/2010/04Veatch_Art.pdf

External links[edit]

  • Velázquez , exhibition catalog from The Metropolitan Museum of Art (fully available online as PDF), which contains material on this portrait (see index)