Artibus et Historiae no. 19 (X)1989, ISSN 0391-9064
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JOHN F. MOFFITT - The «Euhemeristic» Mythologies of Velázquez
The intention underlying Diego Velázquez's occasional ventures into classical mythological subject matter have been frequently misunderstood, in part due to the often uncompromising realism of these pictures, which has led some critics to believe that the Spanish painter wished to devaluate the significance of the Olympian gods by collectively lowering their status "to the base condition of the most vulgar, worldly objects" (Ortega y Gasset). This study corrects that misconception by showing how, on the contrary, Velázquez was deliberately reverting to a still familiar classical literary tradition of interpreting in a particular (quasi-"naturalistic") way the intrinsic meanings of classical fables and heroes. This classical mode of textual-historical (re-)interpretation was called "euhemerism" and it is here applied to all nine canvases by Velázquez, either extand or lost, that are known to have had overtly mythological subjects. Reference is made repeatedly to a book belonging to the erudite painter's private library. The work in question is an extensive anthology of euhemeristic moralizations applied to all the classical fables recounted by Ovid: Philosophia Secreta, by Juan Perez de Moya, first published in Madrid in 1585 (with four other editions subsequently appearing in Velázquez lifetime).