VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)
Oil on canvas, 109 x 102 cm
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
The Breakfast is among Velázquez's earliest bodegones, painted shortly before the end of his apprenticeship, in 1617 or at the very beginning of 1618. It concentrates with particular intensity on the individual characterization of the men, who are shown half-length and three-quarter length, and they are of different ages. The frugality of their meal obviously does not impair their enjoyment of life. The composition presents a view from above of their expressive faces and hands, the tablecloth, and the physical materiality of the food and drink.
Velázquez did not paint lavish quantities of victuals, but the frugal diet of simple people: there is garlic on tables in his bodegones, with fish and eggs, black pudding, olives and aubergines, cheese, home-made wine and a few fruits, together with kitchen utensils such as a mortar, a bowl or a pottery jug. These Spartan still-lifes and the realistically depicted characters shown in such settings, people with an aura of grave silence even when they are painted in action, convey a sense of self-sufficiency that seems to emanate from the down-to-earth philosophy of the ordinary man in the street.
There is another version of this painting entitled Peasants at the Table in the Szépmûvészeti Múzeum, Budapest.