Following his first trip to Italy in 1630, Spanish Baroque artist Diego Velazquez completed his epic oil on canvas, Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan. Requested without commission by Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens, Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan depicts the moment when the god Apollo tells Vulcan that Venus, his wife, is having an affair with another god, Mars. Apollo has presumably entered Vulcan’s blacksmith workshop to bear the bad news amongst the other blacksmiths in the forge. The moment when Apollo warns Vulcan of Venus’ adultery is the focus of the painting, centered by Apollo’s gaze and Vulcan’s reaction. Vulcan’s importance to the painting’s narrative is signified by his communication with Apollo.
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Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan is considered a landmark in Velazquez’s career because it debuted a combination of both his Spanish and Italian artistic influence. The Spanish influence can be seen in Velazquez’ use of ordinary people. An example of these Spanish roots exists in both Apollo and Vulcan’s unidealistic appearances and a plausible Spanish workshop setting. Meanwhile, the colors used and rendering of the bodies of Apollo, Vulcan, the other blacksmiths, and the forge meet the Italian standard for the time period. Behind the blacksmiths in the forge, a murky colored wall rivals the bright orange and yellow marks seen in the nearby fire. In addition, Apollo wears an orange toga and crown of laurel to emphasize his godly presence.
Leslie Goldman of Portrait Quest Multimedia further explains the strategic use of colors in this painting, “…by painting different figures in different ways, and one figure brighter than the rest, Velazquez paints a clear picture of the hierarchy in his picture. Distinguishing the figures by painting them colors of vary intensity gives us an idea of who in the painting is more powerful and who is less,” (Portrait Quest 1). Another bit of Velazquez’ crossed influence lies in his use of unidealized, yet classical nude, muscular figures.
The different positions of the various blacksmiths show off Velazquez’s complete mastery of the nude body. These same men are painted
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wearing only brown cloths in an effort by Velazquez to match the Italian exposure of their bodies with a Spanish indication of average, unidealistic status in society. A biographer of the Notable Names Database emphasizes Velazquez’s originality despite exposure to different styles of painting, “Although acquainted with all the Italian schools, and the friend of the foremost painters of his day, he was strong enough to withstand every external influence and to work out for himself the development of his own nature and his own principles of art,” (NNDB 1). Velazquez’s unsuspecting balance of two European styles is a major reason that Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan’s visual content is so critically acclaimed.
Velazquez creativity and talent can also be applied on the conceptual level of this painting. The artist offers social commentary, favoring arts over crafts, by painting the events of Apollo in the Forges of Vulcan. In regard to Apollo, the god of poetry and music, delivering devastating news to Vulcan, the god of fire and patron of blacksmiths, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport comments, “This work, completely devised by Velazquez, involves praise for the artistic profession. It takes painting to the level of poetry and music and distances it from artisan practices,” (Espana es Cultura 1). A second irony that pertains to the setting exists in how Vulcan prepares weapons for a war overseen by none other than the god of war, Mars. The subtly of Velazquez’ wit further distinguishes him as an iconic painter and creative mind in art history.
Although painted nearly twenty years beforehand, Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan still holds as many similarities as it does differences with Velazquez’s biggest legacy, Las Meninas. One of the most memorable aspects that the two paintings have in common is how they each establish a hierarchy of social status amongst their multiple figures. In the group portrait Las Meninas, the royal court of King Philip IV includes two dwarves, which during the time period served as entertainment for the lower class. The miscellaneous blacksmiths in Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan are the sense of modesty that contrasts its high-profile figures.
A second commonality between the two paintings is how Velazquez used them to pursue his intangible goals of fame and artistic progression. Las Meninas served as a vehicle for Diego Velazquez to promote his perception of his status amongst the royal court. By painting himself to the side of the royal family at work in his personal art studio, Velazquez is confidently stating his own artistic worth, and his faith in art overall. Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan is a painting which Velazquez used to comment on his faith in the arts. Including his own physical presence amongst nobility in his work to validate his beliefs was a methodical difference between how Velazquez went about expressing himself in the two paintings.
A final comparison between the two works of art is how each was painted using oil on canvas. A popular technique of the artistic time period, Velazquez chose oil on canvas for some of his largest and most important paintings. Commenting on how Velazquez’s use of oil benefitted his artwork, Leslie Goldman writes, “This smooth texture of the oil helps to make the movement of the painting flow since there are no bumps of paints to interrupt the flow of your eyes,” (Portrait Quest 1). Though the size of Las Meninas is greater than the size of Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan, both paintings are noted for their distinctly beautiful oil composition.See More on Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan, Diego Velazquez