Velázquez, in his early period, is also a highly original representative of the Spanish tenebroso. In an early work such as The Water Seller of Seville (London, Wellington Museum), he undertakes to transform a simple glass of water, ennobled by the cool and silvery breaking of the light, into an enigmatic and precious object and to reflect this in the sphere of experience of the characters. Velázquez turned briefly to the genre pieces of kitchens and cellars known as "bodegones", but he never specialized in any direction and went on to expand his repertory beyond the routine commissions of court, portraiture, children's portraits, equestrian portraits, to such an extent that, apart from mural and ceiling painting, which played only a minor role in Baroque Spain anyway, his oeuvre covers all the major thematic fields of the time. It includes the female nude in the form of the Rokeby Venus, the only surviving example of four portrayals of Venus - an extremely rare subject matter in Spanish painting - as well as mythological and sacred history paintings and the great allegories of painting which he integrated into his The Fable of Arachne (Madrid, Prado) and into his famous portrait of the family of Philipp IV known as Las Meninas. In his time, Velázquez was a contemplative painter, a man of ideas and a thinker who upheld the value of human dignity as none had done before. His great painting of the Surrender of Breda is not a picture of subjection, but of conciliation.

Even in his portraits, so popular at court, of the dwarves, fools and idiots who were regarded at the time as living caricatures, Velázquez imbues these individuals with an undeniable dignity that brooks no mockery. In spite of these achievements, or perhaps precisely because of the personal qualities that produced them, Velázquez was nevertheless one of those artistic personalities who could not create a following or a school of painting.