A commanding male figure stares out at us, his white lace collar, shimmering silk sleeves and red sash standing out against his sombre black clothing and the nondescript background. This is Don Adrián Pulido Pareja, a distinguished captain in the Spanish royal navy.
He wears the Knight’s badge of the Order of Santiago, awarded to him in 1647, in the form of a gold medal decorated with a red cross in the shape of a sword. In his left hand he holds a wide-brimmed hat, and he grasps the wooden baton of a commander in his right.
When the National Gallery bought this portrait at the end of the nineteenth century, it was thought to be by Diego Velázquez, whose name appears in the inscription centre left, along with the date ‘1639’ (both have since been shown not to be original). The portrait has plausibly been attributed to Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, Velázquez’s son-in-law and principal assistant.
A commanding figure stares out at us, his expression unsmiling. His white lace collar, shimmering silk sleeves and red sash stand out against his sombre black clothing and the non-descript background. This is a portrait of Don Adrián Pulido Pareja, a distinguished captain in the Spanish royal navy – his name is inscribed in Latin in the lower left corner, though this was probably added later. He fought against the French fleet in several major naval battles: near Fuenterrabía in 1638, near Cádiz in 1640 and off Cape St Vincent in 1641.
The portrait was painted in or after 1647, the year in which Don Adrián joined the Order of Santiago – the Knight’s badge, a gold medal decorated with a red cross in the shape of a sword, hangs off the sash across his chest. He holds a wide-brimmed hat in his left hand and grasps the wooden baton of a commander in his right. We can just see the hilt of his sword at his waist, a nod to his role within the military.
When the National Gallery bought this portrait at the end of the nineteenth century it was thought to be by Diego Velázquez, whose name appears in the inscription centre left, along with the date ‘1639’. The handwriting is unlike any other signed painting by Velázquez and the inscription has been shown not to be original, but a similar painting by Velázquez probably did exist. His biographer Antonio Palomino described seeing a life-size portrait of Don Adrián bearing Velázquez’s signature and the date 1639. Some art historians have suggested that our picture is the work mentioned by Palomino, although Don Adrián did not receive his badge of honour until 1647, or it may be a copy after it by Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo, Velázquez’s son-in-law and principal assistant, who succeeded him as court painter to Philip IV after his death in 1660.
The portrait is skilfully executed, but on closer inspection the head and costume seem to lack Velázquez’s characteristically vibrant and economical handling of paint. If you compare Don Adrián’s silk sleeve with a similar detail in Velázquez’s Philip IV of Spain in Brown and Silver, you can see how much more masterful the latter’s application of paint is. Even so, Mazo shows an accomplished familiarity with Velázquez’s technique. This includes the brush marks in the background, created by wiping excess paint off the brush – something for which Velázquez is especially known.
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