|Picture: BBC Your Paintings
I was delighted to find Jonathan Brown's Collected Writings on Velazquez (Yale 2008) at the annual Courtauld book sale. It's interesting throughout, but especially timely is an article from 1997, 'Las Meninas at Kingston Lacy: a Velazquez original or 'from the original'?' (pp 147-150). It turns out the picture 'newly identified' as a possible Velazquez original was newly identified as a possible Velazquez original fifteen years ago. I haven't seen the Kingston Lacy version, but Brown makes a strong case against the new attribution, calling it "a copy of mediocre quality" (p.149).
Brown describes numerous areas of poor execution. For example, in the Infanta's left sleeve "the original's complex play of brushstrokes is reduced to a few superficial touches that seem almost distorted ... when it comes to any detail on the Kingston Lacy canvas, the artist reduces the original's brilliant execution to weak and simplified forms" (p. 150). Brown also notes that the picture was known to modern Velazquez specialists, but unanimously rejected as a Velazquez. It's also listed in seventeenth century sources as a copy.
The chapter led me to an article in the Burlington Magazine by Enriqueta Harris ''Las Meninas' at Kingston Lacy' (Vol. 132, no. 1043, Feb 1990, pp. 125-130), written after the picture was cleaned at the Hamilton Kerr Institute at the University of Cambridge. She wrote that "needless to say, cleaning has not transformed the painting into a new Velazquez, but it can now clearly be seen to be a copy" (p. 125), and suggests that the "blurred, unfocused images and rough, uneven finish ... accord well with what little we know of Mazo's style" (p. 130).
Brown's harsh judgment is in the context of assessing its claim to be by Velazquez, one of the greatest artists of all time. Bendor Grosvenor describes it as "a freely painted thing, of some quality. Mind you, if it was, as previously suggested, by Velazquez's talented son-in-law, Del Mazo, then it would be a work of some quality." I think that's right, and I think Mazo's reputation has suffered unfairly from comparison with Velazquez's overpowering greatness.
Media coverage of 'new attributions' seems to be entirely in proportion to the importance of the artist, and not at all in proportion to the credibility of the claim. Much of the coverage of this, and of the recent Leonardo find (maybe we should pointedly write of it as a 'Da Vinci' find, just to mock the ignorant?) has been woefully superficial. I take heart from the response of the blogosphere. Art History News and Martin Kemp quickly and effectively debunked the new Da Vinci. Information on the new Velazquez has been harder to find, especially given the absence of good pictures of the Kingston Lacy painting. But the Prado has sensibly resisted the hype and continues to describe it as a Mazo.
The Kingston Lacy picture is now in an exhibition at the Prado, Velazquez and the Family of Philip IV. The Prado has put on some outstanding exhibitions recently - Late Raphael (which I saw in Paris), Young Van Dyck (which I visited two days in a row) and now this interesting Velazquez exhibition, which sets his late masterpieces in context with pictures from his studio. I boycotted the NG Velazquez show a few years ago, but this one seems worthwhile and I suspect it will help raise the reputation of Mazo, whose best works have often been mistaken for Velazquez.