Theses Doctoral

The Artist as Curator: Diego Velázquez, 1623-1660

Vazquez, Julia Maria

“The Artist as Curator: Diego Velázquez, 1623-1660” reconsiders the career of Diego Velázquez at the court of Hapsburg king Philip IV as a major episode in the history of curatorial practice. By this it means to examine the ways Velázquez’s activities as a painter and his activities as curator of the Hapsburg art collection transformed each other. Velázquez’s paintings express ambitions and attitudes towards his predecessors that would motivate Velázquez’s reorganization of parts of the royal collection that included their works. In turn, the collection and display of paintings in royal exhibition sites would cultivate in Velázquez a knowledge of art and its history that would inform the paintings he produced at court. Velázquez was a singularly art-historical painter, many of whose works investigate the nature of art itself. This dissertation seeks to prove that these aspects of Velázquez’s work were cultivated in the early modern museum that was the Alcázar palace, where he was surrounded by a veritable history of art under the Hapsburgs.

The dissertation has five chapters; each closely examines a significant project in Velázquez’s trajectory as artist-curator at the Hapsburg court. The first uses the first major installation that Velázquez would witness at the Hapsburg court to set up the problematic of the dissertation as a whole - namely, that meaning was made on the walls of galleries, and that if Velázquez was going to make his name at court, it would be by engaging the royal art collection as it appeared on gallery walls. The second investigates Velázquez’s first curatorial project, the redecoration of the Octagonal Room; it argued that Velázquez’s interest in art itself—an interest characteristic of his painting practice—found a new medium in his work as curator of this gallery. The third chapter reexamines The Rokeby Venus as a function of what Velázquez witnessed over the course of the assembly of the Vaults of Titian, where paintings of nudes were exhibited all together; it thus demonstrates the impact of the royal art collection and its display on his creative imagination as a painter. The fourth chapter considers the culminating curatorial project of Velázquez’s career—the redecoration of the Hall of Mirrors—in tandem with the suite of paintings he made for it—the painting cycle including Mercury and Argus, examining the ways that these two projects mutually informed one another. The final chapter proposes that Las Meninas again evidences Velázquez’s curatorial and painterly imaginations at work simultaneously; then it uses the painting as a point of entry into the reception of both of these aspects of Velázquez’s work at the Hapsburg court, arguing that to make art after Velázquez was to acknowledge both. All together, these chapters tell the story of Velázquez’s increasing engagement with the royal art collection, from the start of his career at the Hapsburg court through his legacy beyond it.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Art History and Archaeology
Thesis Advisors
Bodart, Diane
Cole, Michael
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 17, 2020