VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)

The Dwarf Don Juan Calabazas, called Calabacillas

Oil on canvas, 106 x 83 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

Dwarfs, fools and jesters were present in large numbers at the Court of Philip IV. They were maintained by the King according to a tradition extending back well into the Middle Ages. The tradition was motivated by charity, but many 'fools' came to be appreciated for their wit, arousing great affection and sometimes achieving great fame. Because they were not taken seriously, they were licenced to parody or flout the etiquette with which courtiers and royalty had to conform, which seems to have been especially appreciated at the rigid Court of Philip IV.

Velázquez has used a variety of subtle devices in portraying them: particularly interesting is the way the light flickers uncertainly over Calabacillas' grimace, suggesting his poor vision. Here Velázquez anticipates, or may have influenced, Goya's techique of 160 years later.