Christmas in Painting: Diego Velazquez

Diego Velázquez, The Adoration of the Magi, 1619
(Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)
Velazquez, Immaculate
Conception
, 1618

This painting was probably painted for the Society of Jesus and in the same year that Diego Velásquez’s daughter Francisca was baptised. The year before, in 1618, Velázquez married Juana Pacheco, the daughter of his second teacher, on whom the artist modeled some of his paintings. The 1618 religious work, Immaculate Conception, for which Juana had modeled was likely to be very revealing, as far as the artist’s personal life was concerned.

In The Adoration of the Magi, however, it is not just Juana and the new-born baby that are present in the painting as Mary and Jesus. Velásquez’s former tutor, Francisco Pacheco, is also visible as one of the kings visiting and adoring Christ: he is Melchior, kneeling behind the young Gaspar. As often happened at the time, some of the figures are dressed according to the fashion of the day, hence Balthasar’s white lace collar contrasting his black skin. The landscape in the background is painted in the effect of back lighting and reveals the wall of a hut.

This is undoubtedly one of the most intimate depictions of the story of Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi in Western Art.