The Spanish court of Philip IV (1605-1665) was exceptional for the number of jesters, dwarfs, and people with disabilities who lived under royal patronage and traveled with the king. More exceptional still were the realistic and sensitive portraits of them (cover, Figure) by court painter Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Velázquez painted dwarfs along with their royal patrons, including young princes (Figure) and princesses,2,3 and as individuals (cover), demonstrating that they were part of the royal family. Although the modern viewer might assume that their inclusion in palace life was evidence of royal concern about the welfare of those who were less fortunate, their inclusion was primarily for the entertainment of the royal household and companionship for the royal children. Members of the royal entourage constantly flattered and vied with one another to gain the favor of the king while jesters and dwarfs were frequently allowed to bluntly speak their minds or joke about royal affairs. Because most court dwarfs were intelligent, some assumed positions of importance. One, Don Diego de Acedo (“el Primo”),2 is depicted by Velázquez with a large book.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), Spanish. Portrait of Francisco Lezcano–The “Niño de Vallecas,” 1643-1645. Oil on canvas, 107 × 83 cm (42 × 33 in). Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain (http://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/online-gallery/on-line-gallery/obra/francisco-lezcano-the-boy-from-vallecas/). Photo Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York, New York.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599-1660), Spanish. Prince Balthasar Carlos (1629-1646), Son of Philip (Felipe) IV, With a Dwarf, 1632. Oil on canvas, 128.0 × 101.9 cm (50⅜ × 40⅛ in). Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Erich Lessing/Art Resource, New York.
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