Seville honors an illustrious son: the great painter, Diego de Velazquez.
In the 17th century, Spain underwent a spectacular flourishing in the arts, during the period known as the Siglo de Oro, or Golden Century. And its crowning glory was the work of the Seville-born Diego de Silva y Velazquez, universally acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of all time. 1999 marked the 400th anniversary of Velazquezs birth, leading to renewed interest in this illustrious figure. And what better way to learn more about the man than to wander the streets he walked and see the sights he himself contemplated in his day?
A visit to the Seville of Velazquez should start, of course, on the street where he was born: Calle Gorgoja, today known as Padre Luis Maria Llop. It is a small side street near the Plaza de la Alfalfa in central Seville and, miraculously, the house where he was born in June 1599 still stands, a simple plaque adorning its ocher facade. Velazquez was baptized in the nearby San Pedro church, where the original baptismal font can still be seen.
Seville in Velazquezs time was the port through to which ships carried the fabulous riches of the New World, to be registered at the Torre de Oro, the Moorish "tower of gold" on the banks of the Guadalquivir. The city vibrated with a cosmopolitan mixture of traders, navigators, poets and artists. "Madrid is the capital of Spain, but Seville is the capital of the world," it was said. Yet the royal court beckoned, and Velazquez left his home town to become court painter under King Philip IV in 1623. Still, he was always known as "El Sevillano".
A good place to see the work of those who influenced Velazquezs career is Sevilles superb Museum of Fine Arts. Installed in the former convent of La Merced Calzada, its collection spans seven centuries of Spanish art. There are numerous works by Francisco Pacheco, Velazquezs mentor, father-in-law and biographer, as well as paintings by his contemporaries Jose de Ribera, Francisco de Herrera, Alonso Vazquez, Zurbaran and Murillo. You can also purchase a facsimile replica of Velazquezs birth certificate from the Amigos del Museo office in the museum itself.
Patronato Provincial de Turismo de Sevilla (Seville Tourism Promotion Board) - Calle Adolfo Rodriguez Jurado 2, 41991 Sevilla, Spain. Tel. 34 954 211 091. Fax 34 954 218 764.
Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) - Plaza del Museo 9, 41001 Sevilla, Spain. Tel. 34 954 221 829. Fax 34 954 224 324
Nearest airport: Seville (3 miles, 5 km)
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Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little - A Freelance Spain production
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