June 19, 2021

The mystery of the dwarves of Velázquez | Culture

The mystery of the dwarves of Velázquez | Culture

The Austrians used a madman or a dwarf per year. The Court wanted fun and entertainment, wanted "people of pleasure". The mission of these characters was to end the sorrows of kings and nobles, and between 1563 and 1700 there were more than 120 of these specialists in sweeping the melancholy, although only a score of them were portrayed. The problem arose when the history of art, a century and a half ago, wanted to know their names and found the invisibility of these protagonists who were not "normal servants" (as it is assured in traditional historiography), nor nor normalized: to be a dwarf or crazy in the Court was not to appear anywhere. There is no trace of them neither in payrolls, nor in seats, nor in payments. They had no office or office, although they had to take care of the task of brightening the life of the old Alcázar. They were known as "palatial vermin" and today we see them as little heroes without a history.

They did not exist but Velázquez immortalized them. "A portrait cost a lot of money, so Velázquez did not portrait them because he wanted to. Possibly it was a commission from Philip IV to the painter, but we have not found the document of the order. We know some names of the characters, but we still need to know the reason for the request, "the art historian Ángel Aterido tells EL PAÍS. For this researcher, the problem is that the documentation does not clarify his disabilities.

"We look for information that the documentation does not contain", says Aterido. That's why the names of the people portrayed dance. In fact, thanks to an investigation six years ago by specialists Pablo Pérez D'Ors, Richard Johnson and Don Johnson, the Prado Museum has just altered the personality of the person known so far as "Sebastián de Morra". Now it happens to be "the Cousin". And the one recognized as "Diego de Acedo" will be simply "buffoon with books", as published Abc. From their names, no trace. Nobody knows who they were, as the first historian in the interest of their lives advanced, José Moreno Villa, in his renowned study of 1939, Crazy, dwarves, blacks and palatial children.

The fun, says Moreno Villa, had a limit. "Felipe IV must have had them at bay," he writes. A bullfighter jester, who was called Cristóbal de Castañeda and Pernia (nicknamed Barbarroja), dared to laugh at the king and was banished to Seville by the monarch himself. They were very favored, despite their documentary invisibility, and abused their positions of trust, because they were messengers and spies. Based on "ditirambos and critics" influenced public opinion. The historian tells how useful they were for real service, even to grow: "Looking at the portraits of Felipe IV with Soplillo, and Isabel Clara Eugenia with the dwarf Magdalena Ruiz, the suspicion arises that the dwarves liked the real people for the enhancement they rendered to his figure. "

Looking at the portrait of Philip IV with Soplillo the suspicion arises that the dwarves liked real people because of the enhancement they rendered to their figure

José Moreno Villa

So every time they meet, in the museum, that man who looks at us challenging, without looking away for almost four centuries, remember that it is no longer Sebastian de Morra, but "the Primo", who accompanied Felipe IV to Aragon, in 1644, and there he was portrayed by Velázquez with that inquisitive attitude. The monarch arrived four years late to the military campaign against the Catalan uprising. For Moreno Villa, "el Primo" is the nickname of Diego de Acedo, whose second surname was Velázquez. The irony did the rest.

Ángel Aterido emphasizes that Velázquez poses a "normal" portrait of people who were on the margins of "normality", to conquer a very real and immediate approach. He did the same with philosophers by dressing them as beggars. "Velázquez's vision is to bring the represented to the viewer, seeking the hint of the life they have. They are not static characters. The only one that is a statue in his portraits is the king, the rest are alive, "he explains.

For the expert, it has happened to the dwarves as to the women in the history of art, who have been marginalized. That has changed. "Historiography evolves with society. No matter how much we study our past we will do it from our time and from contemporary interests. Focusing on the margins of what has been a great painting until now is logical, because our society is recovering that part of the forgotten society, "he says.

In his book Crazy, dwarfs and men of pleasure in the court of the Habsburgs (Presence), the professor of Art History Fernando Bouza was interested in these shadows of the historical story, whose presence aims to ennoble the great characters, of whom we do know all their personal data. However, he is struck by the need to name these "people of pleasure" portrayed by Velázquez to bring them back to life. "We still do not know who was the gentleman of the hand in the chest or the cardinal of Rafael, both in the Museo del Prado, and yet we are obsessed -from Pedro de Madrazo, in 1872- with the myth of the intimate portrait that dignifies them "He says.


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