Title and Date of Work: The Forge of Vulcan, 1630
Name of Artist(s): Diego Rodriquez de Silva Velazquez
Location: Museo de Prado, Madrid
Medium:Oil on Canvas
Dimensions: 223×290 cm
Diego Velázquez was one of Spain’s greatest painters and was very influential on European art. Velasquez was born in Seville, Spain and studied art with Francisco Pacheco. In his youth, Velasquez once stated, “I would rather be the first painter of common things than second in higher art.” He was very influenced by the Renaissance and made two trips to Italy to study art. Because Velasquez had great skill in merging color, light, space, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as “the painter’s painter.” He had many titles and was well respected in his community and in all of Spain.
Vulcan is the god of fire, both beneficial and hindering, in Roman mythology. He is often depicted with a blacksmith’s hammer. He is the son of Jupiter and Juno, and the husband of Venus. Vulcan was born extremely ugly. His mother, Juno, tried to throw him off a cliff, but failed to kill him. Instead, she put him in a volcano and told him to stay there for the rest of his young life. He somehow grew to control even the fire of volcanoes and grew up to be a very talented blacksmith for all the gods and goddesses of Olympus.
In this painting we can see Apollo, the god of the sun, telling Vulcan (who is forging the piece of metal into armor)that his wife Venus has been having an affair with Mars, the god of War. Velázquez has done a wonderful job capturing the attitudes of those two men. His painting has some reminiscence of a Caravaggio or even a Michelangelo. Looking at Apollo we can see that his head is held up high, his back is arched. He looks even full of himself as he comes with this horrible message to tell Vulcan, almost scolding him. Vulcan on the other hand looks horrified and even dangerous. He is holding that very hot metal and a hammer, he looks as if he could strike at any time. Looking at Vulcan’s body we can see that it is that perfection of the human body. He has very sculpted abs as well as an almost contrapposto stance, characteristic of, possibly, Michelangelo’s sculptures or even ancient Greek and Roman sculptures. He has a Caravaggio feel in that his body may be perfect, but his face and the faces of the other men look very realistic and down to earth. He has not tried to make these men more beautiful, but he has made them real. They could even be based off the faces of an actual person.
This adds a conflict in the painting of this realism and classical portrayal, but also very down to earth and direct humanness. Velázquez’ painting can be seen as an instruction piece to teach from. The three males in the center are all standing in different positions at different angles to the viewer. Vulcan is head on showing us the front of the body, the man next to him has his back turned to us showing his sculpted back muscles, and the next man is sideways giving us a good shot of his profile. This would have been used to demonstrate Velazquez’ skill as an artist and his ability to paint the male nude.