Spanish Painting – Mazo

A TWO FOLD interest attaches to Juan Bautista de Mazo, the pupil and son-in-law of Velasquez.

In the first place, he was employed by his master to copy many of the latter’s pictures, so that he is involved in the controversies which have arisen over their attribution. Secondly, he was himself an original portrait painter, and practically the only representative of landscape painting in the Spanish School.

Mazo was a native of Madrid, the date of his birth being placed approximately in 1612, because he is reported to have lived a little over fifty years, and his death took place in 1667. It is not known when he entered the studio of Velasquez, but he married the latter’s daughter, Francisca, in 1634. The King signalised his approval of the marriage by relieving Velasquez of his duties as Usher of the Chamber and transferring them to Mazo. The young people made their home with their parents-in-law, and Mazo worked in constant companionship with Velasquez until the latter’s death. He seems to have had a remarkable faculty of imitation, for Palomino, writing shortly after Mazo’s death, says : “He was so skilled as a copyist, especially with regard to the works of his master, that it is hardly possible to distinguish the copies from the originals. I have seen some copies of his, after pictures by Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian, which are now in the possession of his heirs. If these copies were produced in Italy, where his talent is unknown, they would be taken without any doubt for originals.” Velasquez utilised this ability of his pupil, as Rubens and Rembrandt made use respectively of theirs, to assist him in part or in whole. Copies of his pictures were required by the King for presentation to members of the Royal Family of Austria, to ambassadors and others to whom he wished to show special favor. In some cases Velasquez him-self made a replica, more often, because of the interruptions of his Court duties and the stress of other work, would employ Mazo to make a copy, leaving it intact or touching it up as the case might be.

An example of one of these copies, according to Senor Beruete, is the Philip IV as Sportsman, of the Louvre. He assigns it as a copy, made by Mazo, of the original that is now in the Prado. There is a slight difference between the two. In the Louvre picture the King holds his cap with the left hand on his hip; in the Prado the cap appears upon the head. This was an alteration, subsequently made by Velasquez, for one can still trace in the original picture a dark mass over the hip, where the under-painting shows through. The copy, there-fore, must have been made before the alteration.

An example of an original by Mazo, which has passed as a Velasquez, is, according to Senor Beruete, the celebrated portrait of Admiral Adrian Pulido Pareja in the National Gallery. It is signed with the name of Velasquez in Latin. But the Spanish critic points out that, while a signature itself is no proof of authenticity, this one differs in matter and character from the only other three instances of the signature of Velasquez on a picture. These are on undoubted works of the master: the full-length Philip IV in the National Gallery, the portrait of Pope Innocent X in the Doria Gallery, and the fragment of a picture which is preserved in the Royal Palace in Madrid. Studying the technical qualities of the Admiral and comparing them with those of undoubted examples of the same period in Velasquez’s career, Senor Beruete reaches, in brief, the following conclusions. The figure does not stand firmly on its feet; the latter and the legs are badly shaped; the hat looks like a sack; its curve is prolonged by that of the left arm and both are parallel to the curve of the body; the hands are poorly modeled; the baton is held without distinction, the silhouette of the whole figure is neither sure nor beautiful, and the masses lack just disposition and balance. The whole is without the distinction, sureness of touch and brio that characterise all the authentic portraits of Velasquez. It is a fine work by a painter of less power than Velasquez, but bears so strong a resemblance to his style, that it can be by no other than his pupil, Mazo. For other pictures, hitherto supposed to be by Velasquez but now claimed by Senor Beruete for his pupil, the reader is referred to the Spanish critic’s book: “The School of Madrid.”

With the Portrait of Dona Mariana of Austria (p. 122), the second wife of Philip IV, we reach an unquestioned original by Mazo. It is the same subject as in Velasquez’s portrait (p. 119) , only the girl-bride has now become a girl-mother. Her child, the Infanta Margarita, about four years old, appears in the rear with attendants and a dwarf. It is a drab interior rather reminiscent of that in Las Meninas. The crimson curtain and chair and the Queen’s pose, on the other hand, recall Velasquez’s portrait, just mentioned. The suggestion, in fact, throughout is Velasquez, but not the handling and the style. Compare, for example, the hand on the chair in the one portrait and the other. In the Mazo there is an absence of modeling and character. How characterless also the line of the right arm, and wanting in decision and distinction the whole silhouette of the figure. Yet the picture has a very great charm of refinement and tender feeling.

Another probable original by Mazo in the Prado (No. 1083) , Portrait of Prince Baltasar Carlos, is attributed to Velasquez in the official catalogue. It is one of a number of similar attributions that surprise the visitor to the Prado. The portrait in question shows the Prince, now in his fourteenth year, standing with his left hand upon the back of a chair, while his right hangs gracefully, holding a plumed hat. The figure is entirely in black against a drab background. There is no picture by Velasquez, known to exist, from which this could be a copy. That it is not an original by the master is evident in the softness an indecision of the drawing, and the actually bad drawing of the right leg which does not connect properly with the hip. It is therefore assumed with probability to be an original by Mazo, and the fault of drawing is explained by the fact that he was only twenty-four years old when he painted it. This picture has an undeniable elegance, but falls very short of Mazo’s Dona Mariana in accomplishment.

However, both the originality and the capacity of Mazo are best displayed in his landscapes, which have now been collected into one of the upper galleries of the Prado. As we have noted, Mazo is the single great landscape painter of the old Spanish School. While the contemporary School of Holland, in the persons of Ruisdael, Van Goyen, Hobbema, Cuyp and many others, was developing landscape as an independent branch of art and carrying it to a high level of representation and expression, the Spanish School, with the exception of Mazo, still used it in subordination to the figure. Considering that both schools were influenced by the naturalistic motive, how is one to account for this difference? Probably in the fact that, while the Dutch artists were in a great measure painting to please them-selves and choosing their own subjects, the Spanish artists worked directly under the patronage of Royalty and the Church. Portraiture and religious subjects were the only work demanded of them. Added to this may be the fact that the Dutch ideal was democratic, the Spanish aristocratic. The Dutch people were interested in themselves and in the everyday concerns and environment of their lives, and the Dutch artists, being of the same stuff as their public, contributed to the popular taste. On the other hand, both the Spanish monarchy and the Church were strongholds of aristocracy and both had close affiliations with Italy, the art of which had been preeminently aristocratic. It was based, as has been pointed out in a companion volume to this one, “The Story of Dutch Painting,” on the idea of the superiority of the individual person, or, translated into terms of art, on the supremacy of the human figure as an art-motive.

We may well believe that Mazo was encouraged in his feeling for landscape by Velasquez himself. For it is recalled that the latter during his leisure in Rome painted two vistas in the gardens of the Villa Medici. There is also in the Prado a View of the Arch of Titus, which the catalogue admits was probably painted in Spain from a sketch made in Rome. Later criticism, however, has concluded that it was Mazo who painted this from Velasquez’s sketch, and has also assigned to the younger man several other landscapes, originally supposed to be by Velasquez. In this judgment the Director of the Prado acquiesces, for the pictures have been placed in the gallery devoted to Maw’s landscapes.

Before considering them, let us note the contribution made by Velasquez, indirectly through his portraits, to the art of landscape painting. He used landscape, with the freedom and feeling of one who comprehended it and loved it, in his equestrian and sportsman portraits, in the Surrender of Breda and particularly in one of his latest works, S. Antony Visiting S. Paul, where the figures are small and the picture is virtually a landscape subject,. The chief distinction of all these landscape scenes is that Velasquez, the student of light, has brought natural light into the scenes, in which respect they differ from the landscape of Italian backgrounds, even those noble ones of Titian’s, which are pervaded with what is, comparatively speaking, a studio lighting. Velasquez is in a sense even more naturalistic than his contemporaries, the Holland masters of landscape, for, although they rendered nature more intimately, they were disposed to translate the actual hues of nature into a tonality of their own. Velasquez, on the contrary, recorded what seemed to him to be the facts of sight. He, therefore, reappears among the moderns of the nineteenth century, in landscape as in portraiture, one of themselves, because their mutual study was the light of nature.

One of Mazo’s most important landscapes, known to be his by documentary evidence, is the View of Zaragoza. It hangs in the Velasquez gallery of the Prado, because the master added the figures which are distributed in three planes throughout the foreground. But the river beyond, dotted with sailboats, the bridge and distant view of the city are unquestionably by Mazo. The silvery deep olive-green of the water and the accurate definition of the buildings, which nevertheless are felt as masses, recall the finest manner of Il Canaletto, while the suggestion of light in the sky is more naturalistic than the Venetian ever attained. It is a picture that interests one. to compare with the single landscape of Jan Vermeer: his View of Delft in the Hague Gallery. Each gives one an extraordinary realisation of the actuality of the scene ; but, while the Holland artist’s picture breathes an intimate domesticity, the work of the Spaniard is psychologically different, suggesting a certain hauteur and exclusiveness ; partly, no doubt, through the introduction of the choice groups of figures by Velasquez.

The three landscapes originally attributed to Velasquez, but now included by the Director of the Gallery among Mazo’s are: The Fountain of the Tritons (p. 122) Calle de la Reina de Aranjuez, and The View of Buen Retiro. In the first named the tree-stem on the left-foreground, sprinkled with leaves, is reminiscent of Velasquez, and the beautiful little figures, so suggestively rendered, may have been added by him. But the handling of the grey-green foliage of the further trees, softly blurred against a bluish grey sky, is unlike the method of Velasquez as seen in any of his landscape backgrounds. On the other hand, the soft faint masses of tone, subsequently worked over with little curly strokes, can be found to a greater or less extent in the foliage parts of all Mazo’s landscapes in this room. The latter, it should be observed, vary in subject, including views of buildings, romantic scenes of rocks and waterfalls, sea-shore in combination with cliffs and temple-ruins, and views more simply naturalistic. To each the artist has adopted a technique suitable to the occasion, so that it is not at first sight easy to recognise them as the work of one man.

Mazo, in fact, in his approach to landscape, shows nothing of the timidity and indecision and tendency to follow closely his master, such as characterise his portraits. Here he shows himself an original experimenter, freely pursuing his own motive. In the case of The Fountain of the Tritons it has brought him to a method that anticipates the impressionistic style of Corot. The peeps of sky through the soft screen of trees; their very coloring, the single tree-stem in the foreground and the envelope of cool grey atmosphere—Corot might have painted them.

The Calle de la Edna has again a strangely modern air, somewhat that of a Jules Dupre, when he is not stirred to emotional effects. The avenue, leading to the palace of Araujuez, recedes in the shadow of tall trees, which tower up in dark masses against a fine twilight sky. Its light is dimly reflected in the grey-blue water of a shadowed lake on the left of the foreground; the rest of the latter being enlivened with figures which form the retinue of two arriving coaches. All these sprinkled forms count as dark spots upon the pale-lighted sandy road. In its truth of observation and simple nobility of feeling this landscape would do honor to any school of any period.

To assist his appreciation of Mazo’s romantic and mythological landscapes, the visitor to the Prado will do well to step into an adjoining gallery, devoted to the works of Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin. It is true they are not represented here at their best; yet perhaps sufficiently well to suggest the character of their work and certainly its spirit. Particularly in the case of Claude Lorrain it is slighter, shallower than the spirit of Mazo’s corresponding scenes; less reinforced by close observation of nature; or, it may be, inspired by softer influences. For the source of the difference is perhaps the contrast of character of the Spanish as compared with the Italian landscape. Mazo has noted to good purpose the stirring cloud effects that pile high above the gaunt sierras, and their grandeur and bigness have inspired his feeling. By comparison, the mellow skies of the French-Italian landscapes, seem trivial, and communicate their slighter feeling to the formal, classically composed foregrounds, so that they seem mannered. In Mazo’s on the other hand, the grandeur of the sky’s suggestion spreads to the mountains, rocks and water, investing the whole with a sense of structural power and therefore of sincerity. In fact, in these romantic, mythological subjects Mazo stands alongside Turner rather than Claude and Poussin.

AMONG the painters who were contemporaries of Velasquez and after his death helped to stem for a little while the decline of the School of Madrid, special notice is due to Juan Carrell de Miranda. He came of a noble family of the province of Asturias, his father, being Alcade de los Hijosdalgos or Chief of the Council of Nobles, in the town of Aviles, where Juan was born in 1614. When he was still a boy he accompanied his father to Madrid, and made up his mind to be an artist. His father, at last acquiescing, placed him with Pedro de las Cuevas, who had also been the teacher of Jose Leonardo and Pereda. Carreno afterwards worked with a painter, Bartolome Roman; but by the time that he was twenty years old had so distinguished himself that he was entrusted with several important commissions. Velasquez recognised his talent and, thinking he should be employed in the King’s service, commissioned him to paint some frescoes for the royal palace. These were destroyed in the fire of 1734.

In 1669 Carrell was appointed one of the Court Painters, a post which he continued to hold after the succession of the young king, Charles II, when the regency was in the hands of the Queen-Mother, Mariana de Austria. In this capacity Carreno executed portraits of the royal family which represent his best work.

Meanwhile his popularity was based upon his decorations and altar-pieces. His decorative ability, which had been recognised, as we have seen, by Velasquez, included a familiarity with the technique of fresco painting, a branch of the art which had few representatives among Spanish painters. The taste for it had been introduced by the Italians summoned to decorate the Escorial, and perpetuated by other foreigners who were employed in decorating the principal churches and con-vents. From them Carreno acquired a knowledge of the process. He seems (for I am not acquainted with Carreno’s mural decorations) to have been distinguished in his use of it by a combination of Italian decorative composition with types and motives characteristically Spanish, and by very delicate and spiritual schemes of color.

Perhaps the character and quality of the latter may be discovered in the altar-piece by this artist in the His-panic Museum, New York. It is a Conception; the subject being presented in the usual way prescribed by the Church. But the composition is looser, if one may say so, than Murillo’s in similar pictures, with lines more flowing and masses distributed more gaily. It is the arrangement, in fact, of a painter accustomed to the liberty of decoration on a large surface. It has a sweep and elegance that make it akin to the compositions of Antolinez and particularly of Cerezo, whom we briefly discussed in the fourth chapter. In its color-scheme also, it favors theirs. All these artists, in fact, represent a reaction from the more sober and restricted color-schemes, imposed upon Velasquez and other Court painters. At the same time, they are characteristic of the decline which had already begun. The coloring of this Conception of Carreno’s is distinguishably prettified; pearly pinks and blues, soft greys and greens, perilously suggestive of the bonbonie’re style. And the sentiment of the whole is correspondingly suave, almost, if not completely, to insipidity. Similarly sentimental are this artist’s Magdalen in the Desert in the Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, and his San Sebastian of the Prado. The Magdalen looks like a matured Ariadne, abandoned by her lover. She is posed upon a rocky seat, so that her beautiful arms may be seen to advantage and the long line of her graceful figure duly emphasised. Meanwhile she lifts her tearful gaze to the sky, at a carefully calculated angle that will impress the beauty of her neck upon the sympathetic spectator. As for the San Sebastian, it should make a gentle lady weep to behold how this tender body has been abused. In fact, the student who has discovered the true sources of greatness in the Spanish School of painting will not take Carreno very seriously when he is in these moods. Fortunately for his present reputation there is a graver and more dignified side to his art.

In his portraits, especially those of the members of the royal family, Carreno shows himself to have absorbed no little of the influence of Velasquez. These portraits of Charles II and his mother, Queen Mariana, vary in quality; for he was called upon to repeat them, and the replicas display a lack of interest and falling off in technical distinction. Perhaps the handsomest portrait of the King, painted when he was still a lad of twelve, is the one in the Kaiser-Friedrich Museum, Berlin. The boy, as usual in a black velvet suit, with long blond cavalier locks descending over his shoulders, stands resting his left hand on a marble-topped table, which is supported on a lion and ball pedestal. His face has not yet acquired the expression of settled melancholy and is gracious and lovable. The coloring is rich and luminous, and the concavity behind the figure, full of atmospheric suggestion. The replica of this in the Prado is tighter and drier in treatment, lacking in quality of tone and lighting.

Another portrait of this period, showing the figure at half length is owned by Senor Beruete. Judged by the photograph of it, reproduced in his “School of Madrid,” it is a very superior canvas, distinguished by graciousness and dignity. It is a terrible contrast to turn from the weak yet winning beauty of the boy to the portrait in which Carreno has depicted the man (p. 132). In all the range of portrait-painting can we find a face so degenerate as this? The face droops to an inordinate length, as if the vacuous brain could. no longer hold it in position; the mental distortion is reflected in the grotesquely exaggerated features; the expression of the pallid mask is one in which hope and joy of life are extinguished and reasonless fear is habitually present. Such was the last of the proud Hapsburg line of Spanish Sovereigns.

Carreno’s most important work, however, is the Portrait of Queen Mariana of Austria, in the Munich Old Pinakothek, of which there is an unsatisfactory replica in the Prado. But the Munich portrait, once seen, impresses itself indelibly on the memory. It is a cold, implacable indictment. The surly sadness of the girl-wife, painted by Velasquez (p. 119) , who had our sympathy for the cruel grossness of her lot, has hardened into callous obstinacy and weak self-indulgence. Her widowhood has brought authority without a sense of responsibility, she has betrayed her maternal trust in order that through her child’s feebleness she may hold on to power; she has dallied between her lover and confessor, and is now devote. Clothed in black and white weeds that resemble a nun’s garb, she sits squarely at a table, a loveless, forbidding woman. Yet strangely haunting because of Carreno’s analysis and fearless exposition.