Skip to main content

Prado Museum in Madrid: Learn About Velazquez and His Art

I live in Houston and love writing reviews of the local restaurants and stores I visit with family and friends.

"The Fable of Arachne," also known as "The Spinners," by Velazquez with my husband standing in front of it.

"The Fable of Arachne," also known as "The Spinners," by Velazquez with my husband standing in front of it.

Prado Museum

When my husband and I were visiting Madrid, Spain, in 1992, we elected to take a tour of the famous Prado Museum. The hours we spent there were not enough to gain a complete overview of this magnificent museum filled with world-renowned works of many well-known artists. But what we did garner was a greater appreciation of the sublime canvasses painted by such notable artists as Diego de Silva Velazquez and El Greco, among others.

This article will focus on the pictures taken that day of paintings by Velazquez. They do allow photographs as long as there is no flash photography.

This first picture shows my hubby standing in front of The Fable of Arachne, also known as The Spinners. This painting was created for a private collector sometime before 1648. It portrays a spinning contest between the Greek goddess Pallas Athena and a girl known as Arachne. Athena disguised herself as an older woman (the one on the left with a white scarf on her head), and when Arachne (in the white blouse on the right) boasted that she could win any spinning contest, the challenge began. Arachne naturally lost and was turned into a spider, so the legend goes.

"The Epiphany" or "Adoration of the Magi" (1619) by Velazquez in the Prado Museum

"The Epiphany" or "Adoration of the Magi" (1619) by Velazquez in the Prado Museum

Adoration of the Magi

Velazquez painted this Adoration of the Magi in 1619 when he was around twenty years of age for a church in Seville. At an early age, he showed a mastery of portraiture painting, as this readily portrays. He had studied as a pupil in the Seville studio of Francisco Pacheco, and that is where he met his future wife, Pacheco's only daughter. They married in 1618.

His prowess in painting got him admitted at a very young age as a master in the guild's Seville painters. Velazquez liked to paint ordinary people and simple objects. He became noticed and inspired others to learn from his painting techniques.

In 1622 he made his way to Madrid, where he painted a portrait of the influential court poet Don Luis de Gongora. When the king's favorite court painter died, the king summoned Velazquez to the court, and that began a decade-long job of painting for Spain's royalty. Philip IV was only sixteen years of age when he came to power as king in 1621, and his years at court and those of his family became well documented by Velazquez.

Velazquez was baptized in Sevilla, Spain, on June 6, 1599, and died on August 6, 1660, in Madrid, Spain. He spent over 40 years working as an artist in Madrid and captured the new young king's presence, and he kept painting him as he matured.

"Philip IV on Horseback," 1634-35

"Philip IV on Horseback," 1634-35

Philip IV on Horseback

This painting of Philip IV on Horseback took place in the years 1634-35.

The first portrait of the young king was when Philip was 18 years old. The king liked riding horses, and while in the Prado Museum, we saw a progression of horse paintings with the king at different ages as he grew older, sitting atop mounts.

King Philip IV ruled over many other kingdoms. He was also supposed to be the Defender of the Faith, helping Catholicism triumph over the (considered at that time) heresy of Protestantism. That was a mighty job for a teenage king!

"Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles" by Velazquez in the Prado Museum

"Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles" by Velazquez in the Prado Museum

Equestrian Portrait of Prince Balthasar Charles

When viewing this large painting designed to hang over a doorway, if one looks straight on, the horse seems bloated. But when seen as intended, the perspective of this masterful painting is more in line than when looking up at an angle.

This portrait was painted from 1634 to 1635. Notice the beautiful landscape in the background.

"Apollo in The Forge of Vulcan" by Velazquez

"Apollo in The Forge of Vulcan" by Velazquez

Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan

Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan was painted in 1630 and portrayed quite a tale. The Roman sun god Apollo is telling Vulcan, the god of fire and metalwork, that his wife Venus has been unfaithful with the god of war, Mars. Notice the shocked look on the face of Vulcan as he looks at the orange-robed Apollo.

"Christ Crucified," by Velazquez

"Christ Crucified," by Velazquez

Christ Crucified

Painted in 1632, this work by Velazquez is titled Christ Crucified. Note the dark background so that the entire focus is on the cross and body of Christ.

"The Feast of Bacchus," 1629 by Velazquez

"The Feast of Bacchus," 1629 by Velazquez

The Feast of Bacchus

This painting from 1629 titled Los Borrachos or The Drinkers / The Drunks is also known as The Feast of Bacchus.

No matter the name, it depicts the paying of mock homage to that partially clothed ivy-crowned youth seated on a wine barrel. The peasant in the yellow pants appears to be having the most fun of all from my perspective.

"Portrait of Philip IV in Armour" by Velazquez

"Portrait of Philip IV in Armour" by Velazquez

Portrait of Philip IV in Armour

This painting of King Philip IV was in 1926. Note the unusual collar worn by him and the mode of dress for this portrait.

"The Infanta Margarita" by Velazquez, 1660

"The Infanta Margarita" by Velazquez, 1660

The Infanta Margarita

The painting, titled The Infanta Margarita, was begun in 1660. According to records, this was the very last painting initiated by Velazquez. He died before finishing it. The artist Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo is credited with completing this beautiful painting of this young girl in an exquisite dress.

"The Surrender of Breda" by Velazquez, 1634-35

"The Surrender of Breda" by Velazquez, 1634-35

The Surrender of Breda

In this intricate painting, notice the man furthest to the right. It is a portrait of the master painter himself, Velazquez.

The Surrender of Breda painting is from the years 1634 to 1635. It depicts the transfer of the key to the city from the Dutch to the Spanish army.

Las Meninas

This massive 10-foot by 9-foot canvas titled Las Meninas is also called The Family of Philip IV. Velazquez painted it from 1656 - 1657. This extraordinary painting takes up one wall inside the Prado Museum.

Velazquez came to live in the royal palace. He continually painted his imperial subjects over and over again. He came to know them as well as anyone outside of the family possibly could, and probably better than most.

This painting represents the court of Philip IV, and he very artfully portrayed this charming little princess who is the focal point of this masterpiece. Around the princess are ladies in waiting, plus a couple of dwarfs and a dog resting on the floor.

The princess's parents, the King and Queen, are seen in the distance. Their images come from a reflection in a mirror. A few other people from the Spanish court are also in the background of this canvas, but the focal point of this painting is the princess.

Velazquez painted his likeness into this canvas as the portrait painter on the left who is taking a break and serenely holding his brushes in his hand as he is pondering his next move.

Standing in front of this magnificent painting in person was a rich experience for my husband and me.

Velazquez Background Information

The story of the artist Velazquez is an interesting one. He came from the Hidalgo class of nobility, which was the lowest order in Spain. Nonetheless, his rearing was that of a gentleman. That class of people shunned manual labor, and when he showed artistic talent, his parents happily sent him to study as an apprentice under the tutelage of an art teacher at age eleven. Many others from that class swelled the ranks of the church.

Due to the plague and economic malaise, famine and bankruptcies were common.

Seville was a mecca for artists and artisans at that time, and Velazquez was in the right place at the right time. The church wielded mighty power over citizens' lives back then, and much of the artwork reflected that influence. He could have stayed in Seville and been the foremost religious painter, but he had other dreams. Coming from an aristocratic background, and although poor, he had grand ambitions. At age seventeen, the artist's guild admitted him, and at 19, he was already painting masterpieces.

When elected to become the court painter in Madrid's capital, Velazquez had already established himself at an early age as someone worthy of his birthright. Working for the king's court also freed him from earning commissions, as most other artists had to do to sustain themselves. He could instead work on mastering his craft of painting, and that he did.

Towards the end of his career, Velazquez had even become a Knight of the Order of Santiago and was able to wear the order's emblem of a red cross. This emblem can be seen in his portrayal of his portrait merged into the Las Meninas painting.

He also achieved other ranks, such as being a Gentleman of the Wardrobe and Gentleman of the Bedchamber. His ranking within the court meant much to him. He even applied for and was awarded the position of Chamberlain to the king. With the latter rank, he had his living quarters next to the Alcazar with plenty of money, but he also had assignments that would take time away from his painting. He was responsible for the decoration and upkeep of the palaces and art treasures. He also arranged travel for the king's visits to foreign lands and accompanied him on those journeys.

Velazquez seemed to thrive in that environment and continued painting his masterpieces and executing his other assignments that went with those titles.

The rule of Spanish domination was falling apart during the time he spent at court, and he saw firsthand all of this turbulence.

Velazquez is known as a "painter's painter." He was brilliant with his portraiture and his technical expertise. He bent the approved rules of church-dominated art in portraying what was respectable and what was not. He influenced others who were to follow in his footsteps.

He and his wife had two children, and one of his girls lived long enough to marry and bear him grandchildren, who were a delight to him in his older years.

Velazquez is one of Spain's greatest-known artists, and a great many of his beautiful paintings are on view inside the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. The pictures portrayed in this post represent a small fraction of the ones executed by him and viewed within the confines of the inviting Prado.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 08, 2018:

Hi Mary,

That first time you wished to visit the Prado Museum and it was closed must have been a big disappointment. Happy to hear that you have now gotten to visit the inside of it and see some of the many wonders.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 08, 2018:

Am glad to have found this. The first time I went to Prado, it was closed. I was at the gate looking longingly in. That was 25 years ago. Last December, we just had to do it and we went to Madrid just for this and we were happy we did.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 03, 2012:

Hello Didge,

So glad that you liked this hub about the Velazquez paintings inside of the Prado Museum in Spain. We were in awe! Appreciate your comment.

Didge from Southern England on June 03, 2012:

awesome! So creative :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on January 07, 2011:

Hi Tony,

Las Meninas is absolutely spectacular when seen in person and it is a very large painting as are many inside the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. It was a thrill to get to see so many Velasquez paintings and be able to take pictures of them as well as other famous artists like El Greco, Goya, etc.

Thanks for the comment and keep spreading your love and peace greeting. Maybe someday it will catch fire and light up the world! :-)

Tony McGregor from South Africa on January 06, 2011:

Such wonderful paintings! I would love to see them in real life - reproductions are so pale in comparison! I have always loved Las Meninas in particular.

Thanks for sharing your great tour.

Love and peace


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 25, 2010:

Hello A Perfect Chef,

Like you, we would also enjoy a revisit to the beautiful Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. One can hardly take in all the beauty in one day of visiting. Thanks for the visit and comment.

John Smith from Atlanta, Georgia on December 25, 2010:

I went to the Prado Museum several years ago, and it was beautiful. I would love to go back sometime. Thanks for posting.

Cheryl on July 20, 2009:

You have captured wonderful and beautiful pieces of art. I love the enlightening information you have given on Velazquez's paintings.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2009:

Hi aliciaharrell,

Glad you liked it and thanks for the comment.

Alicia Rose Harrell from Central Oklahoma on July 20, 2009:

Great Hub Peggy!:) Loved the portraits too!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2009:

Hi loveroflife,

Love that name, by the way! Thanks for your comment on my Velazquez hub. Glad you liked it.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2009:

Hello swathin2,

Nice to see a new face here! As to the photos of the Velazquez paintings inside the Prado Museum...happy that you liked them.

Will look forward to seeing what you are writing. Thanks for the comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 20, 2009:

Hi Elena,

I will definitely take you up on your offer of identifying the photos that I took inside the Prado Museum and have no idea who painted them.

OK...will do the next hub regarding El Greco, the Prado and other artists. That will be your key to my needing help in identifying the others. Thanks so much for your offer to help!

loveroflife on July 20, 2009:

Great Art -- Great Writing. Thanks for the educational tour.

swathin2 on July 20, 2009:

hello you have a very rare collection of photos and they impressed me a lot.

feel free to comment me


Elena. from Madrid on July 19, 2009:

Yo Peggy, I would try and help with those unidentified photos, actually that sounds like fun! :-)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi Teresa,

So you actually did a dissertation on Velazquez and Goya! That must have been fun doing that research! I also have a couple of identified Goya paintings that I will include in the next hub and some I believe look like Goya...but I will simply include the photos as beautiful paintings with no identification as to who created them. Maybe you can fill in some blanks?

My husband and I left the Prado Museum after viewing Velazquez, El Greco, Goya and other painters for quite a few hours feeling like we had sensory overload. It is absolutely amazing what is contained inside the Prado Museum! And (sadly) we merely scratched the surface!

We only had 3 days in Madrid for sightseeing and one of those was spent on an all day tour to our time was limited. Would love to go back someday and have more time.

Too bad your mother had a hard time walking there. My mother had the same problem when in Santa Fe, New Mexico and we won't even discuss Colorado! Heights and hills have been not manageable for some time now for her.

Happy that we took the trips together that we did with my mother when she was able to travel. Am sure you felt the same way regarding your mother.

Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi Ethel,

That would be wonderful! I'll go to your hub and also link it to mine. Thanks!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi Kiran,

Thanks for commenting on my Velazquez hub. That Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain is worth a trip if one likes to see world renowned art all under one roof.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Wow, Elena........getting to live next door to the Prado Museum! How lucky can a person get?

I have a number of El Greco photos of paintings taken in the Prado Museum and will do another hub about that...but I also have a number of great photos that are unidentified. As we were on a tour and kept moving along, I couldn't write down all the names and match them up with photos in the old 35 mm. film developed weeks later. Maybe you can help identify them when I publish that hub? Would be GREAT!

Thanks much for commenting...and enjoy that Sorollo exhibit.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi G-Ma,

Teresa McGurk could undoubtedly answer that question for you since she studied this and did her dissertation on Velazquez and Goya. I think that a lot of natural pigments were used back then? So you liked The Spinners the best of the Velazquez paintings photographed in this hub? Or did you like the story behind it best?

Thanks for commenting and hugs back to you.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi Pete,

If you ever get back to Madrid, try and make a point of going to the Prado Museum. Wish we had days to spend inside of it. Wonderful, wonderful museum! And getting to see these masterpieces up close...hard to put into words the awe inspiring feelings... Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2009:

Hi Kari,

So happy that you enjoyed seeing these Velazquez paintings and hearing a bit about his history. Thanks for the comment.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on July 19, 2009:

I love the Prado. Wrote my undergraduate dissertation on Velazquez and Goya (as interpreted by Buero Vallejo, the playwright). Thanks for this reminder. Last time I was in Toledo, I took my mum, and while she loved the town, the streets were a bit too steep. Oh well.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on July 19, 2009:

Thanks for the tour Peggy. I will see if I can add a link to my Seville Hub.

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on July 19, 2009:

Lovely as usual Peggy, thanks a lot :)

Elena. from Madrid on July 19, 2009:

Peggy, I so enjoyed the tour! :-) I live next door to Prado, I visit every now and again when there are special exhibitions (there's a fabulous one of Sorolla now), and I hardy ever resist stopping by the Velazquezs. One of my favorites by him is the "Portrait of Innocent X", which unfortunatelly isn't housed in Prado. Oh well, can't have everything, can I? :-)

Merle Ann Johnson from NW in the land of the Free on July 18, 2009:

Loved "The Spinners" and wondering what they used for paint back then? and it seems to last so long and keep it's color..Nice hub thanks..:O) Hugs G-Ma

Pete Maida on July 18, 2009:

That is wonderful art. I've walked around Madrid but I never went in the museum.

Kari Poulsen from Ohio on July 18, 2009:

This is an absolutely beautiful hub! The pictures are wonderful and I love your history! Great Job!! :D

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 18, 2009:

Hi Gypsy Willow,

Copied twice...must be the thunderstorm that is arriving. We need the rain badly! Yea!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 18, 2009:

Hi Gypsy Willow,

So you liked the Velazquez paintings? I can assure you of one thing...seeing them in person in the Prado Museum is awe inspiring. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

Gypsy Willow from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand on July 18, 2009:

What an enchanted visit. thanks for sharing it with us!