The Waterseller of Seville (1618-22) by Velazquez
Interpretation of Spanish Baroque Genre Painting (Bodegon)

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The Waterseller of Seville
By Diego Velazquez.
Considered to be one of the
greatest genre paintings of
the Spanish Baroque.

The Waterseller of Seville (1618-22)


Analysis of The Waterseller of Seville
Interpretation of Other Baroque Paintings


Name: The Waterseller of Seville (1618-22)
Artist: Diego Velazquez (1599-1660)
Medium: Oil on canvas
Genre: Genre painting (bodegon)
Movement: Spanish Baroque Art
Locations: Apsley House, London; Uffizi Florence; Private Collection

For the meaning of other celebrated masterpieces,
please see: Famous Paintings Analyzed (1250-1800).


Blessed with a prodigious talent that would make him the leader of Spanish painting during the 17th century, the 23-year old Seville-born Velazquez settled in Madrid where his extraordinary portrait art secured him the position of painter to King Philip IV. In due course he would dazzle his contemporaries with some of the best Baroque paintings in Spain, including: Christ Crucified (1632), The Surrender of Breda (1635), Portrait of Pope Innocent X (1650), The Rokeby Venus (1647-51), and Las Meninas (1656). But as a young man in Seville he specialized in a type of sombre genre painting in the style of the Bamboccianti, known as bodegones. Focusing on subjects like beggars, street sellers, and soldiers at leisure, his works included: The Lunch (1617, Hermitage, St. Petersburg) and Old Woman Frying Eggs (1618, National Gallery of Scotland), as well as his series entitled The Waterseller of Seville.

Analysis of The Waterseller of Seville by Velazquez

The Waterseller of Seville is the title given to three paintings by Velazquez, dating to the period before he left Seville for Madrid (1618–1622). One version is at Apsley House (Wellington Museum), London, the former home of the Duke of Wellington; another is in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence; and a third version remains in private hands. The most profound and monumental of the three - originally part of the Royal Spanish Collection - is in Apsley House; the earlier Uffizi Waterseller with his red hat is more of a parody; while the third version is overpowered by a lighting and colour scheme in which the innocent white face of the child has all but disappeared. In this article we focus on the Apsley House painting.



The subject of this masterpiece of Baroque art is a street water-seller known as 'the Corsican of Seville' who, according to written accounts of the time, wore a smock with holes in it, the better to show off his skin sores to passers-by. But in this incredibly calm and quiet picture, Velazquez gives him the appearance of a saint or monk, who is almost unaware of the people around him, and who has a faraway look in his eyes that suggests a profound acceptance of life.

He has two customers: a young boy standing next to him, and a young man partly obscured by background shadow. (His figure has faded with time; he is more visible in the Uffizi version). The waterseller passes a freshly poured glass of water to the boy, without looking at him. It is a bright, clean glass with a black fig inside it to freshen the taste of the water. The boy himself - whose young white face offers a sharp contrast to the seller's ageing brown features - also averts his gaze out of respect for the age and poverty of the street-seller. In the foreground we can see the seller's large ceramic pots of water - rendered like a still life painting - whose lines echo those on his face. It is the worn-out face of someone who has spent a lot of time standing on hot and dusty street corners - a sentiment reinforced by the earthy browns and ochres of the artist's colour scheme.

Nowhere is Velazquez's respect for the poor better illustrated that in this portrait of a simple street-seller, whose situation is ennobled by the light falling on him and by his white, shroud-like undershirt. Velazquez was strongly influenced by the radical Italian painter Caravaggio (1571-1610), and so makes the most of chiaroscuro to model his subjects and tenebrism to focus the viewer's attention. But he gives the work a down-to-earth feel which is more akin to Dutch Realist genre painting (the Bamboccianti hailed from Holland and Flanders) rather than the more dramatic Caravaggism. Velazquez has no desire to idealize his subject - on the contrary, he tries to capture it in all its imperfections. Nonetheless, he manages to imbue the waterseller with a timeless dignity and the scene with a monumental sense of calm. Other Spanish Baroque artists painted bodegones, notably the Seville-born Murillo (1618-82), but his works tended to be little more than sentimental street scenes.

Interpretation of Other Baroque Paintings

Conversion on the way to Damascus (1601) by Caravaggio.
Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome.

Descent from the Cross (Rubens) (1612-14)
Cathedral of our Lady, Antwerp.

Judith Beheading Holofernes (1620) by Artemisia Gentileschi.
Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Abduction of the Sabine Women (1634-5) by Nicolas Poussin.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Et in Arcadia Ego (1637) by Nicolas Poussin.
Louvre, Paris.

Bathsheba Holding King David's Letter (1654) by Rembrandt.
Louvre, Paris.


• For more Spanish Baroque genre paintings, see: Homepage.

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