This is the extended version of Gwyneth’s Rome Prize project proposal, part of her application for the Rome Prize, a year-long fellowship at the American Academy in Rome. Read about the prize and Gwyneth’s decision to apply here.
In 1629-30 and again in 1649-51, Diego Velázquez, the sober Spaniard famed for his impressionistic, unflinching realism, sojourned in Rome, the heart of the triumphalist Counter-Reformation. Both stays were decisive for his development as an artist, nurturing the creation of masterworks in Rome and back home in Madrid. My own training and approach as a painter is indebted to the painterliness of Velázquez and to the ascetical pathos of his Spanish forerunners. Yet I am equally dedicated to reviving the traditions of Renaissance and Baroque sacred art and ecclesiastical portraiture—traditions rooted above all in 16th and 17th century Rome. Thus as a Rome Prize Fellow, I propose to take Velázquez as my guide to the Eternal City. I will retrace his steps, entering into painted conversation with (I) the Renaissance masterpieces he studied, such as the Vatican frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael; (II) the works of his Italian peers, including Jusepe Ribera, Pietro da Cortona, and Bernini; and (III) Velázquez’s own Roman masterpiece, the Portrait of Innocent X at the Galleria Doria Pamphilj.
Throughout my stay in Rome, I will make sketches and copies from masterworks in order to appropriate their techniques and excellences. I will dedicate particular attention to painting a copy of Velázquez’s Innocent X and to comparing Velázquez’s painting to Bernini’s two busts of the same pontiff done in the same Jubilee Year of 1650 and displayed in the same gallery. Like Velázquez, I will visit major works in other Italian cities, including Venice and Naples, and experience the immemorial rites and customs of the ancient Roman Rite, which is celebrated almost exactly as it was in Velázquez’s day at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini. I will further imitate Velázquez, who participated in the cultivated Roman society of his day, through membership in the American Academy’s community of scholars and artists dedicated to the Roman heritage. The culmination of the Fellowship will be the creation of at least one major original painting informed by my Roman sojourn in the footsteps of Velázquez.
(I) During his first visit to Rome, Velázquez stayed for a time at the Vatican, where he made drawings from the Michelangelo and Raphael frescoes. On both trips he spent time in Venice, where he drew from Tintoretto and, on the second trip, purchased works by Titian and Veronese for Philip IV.
(II) On both of his Italian sojourns, Velázquez visited Ribera, the Spanish Tenebrist who lived at Naples. Many of Ribera’s works remain on view there, chiefly at the Capodimonte Museum. On his second trip to Rome, Velázquez tried unsuccessfully to persuade Pietro da Cortona to travel to Spain to paint frescoes. Velázquez would have admired Cortona’s monumental ceiling at the Palazzo Barberini. Velázquez did procure Spanish commissions for sculptor Alessandro Algardi, whose full-length bronze portrait of Innocent X, completed around the time Velázquez arrived in Rome in 1649, is on view at the Capitoline Museums. Also on the second trip to Rome, Nicolas Poussin and Bernini befriended Velázquez. Works by Poussin are on view at the Pinacoteca Vaticana and the Palazzo Barberini. Several commentators have suggested that Velázquez’s tastes would have disinclined him toward Bernini’s style; this is a question I would like to consider especially in light of Bernini’s two busts of Innocent X, whom Velázquez painted in the same year.
(III) The Portrait of Innocent X is the only major work painted by Velázquez in Rome that is still on view in the city. Viewing, drawing, and painting the work will be a centerpiece of the project. I am also intrigued by the fine Portrait of Francesco I d’Este, Duke of Modena, painted by Velázquez in Madrid between his two Italian sojourns, which hangs at the Galleria Estense in Modena. In Florence, a portrait of Velázquez in the Corridoio Vasariano may be the self-portrait painted during his first stay in Rome.