Velazquez is considered the most important of all the Spanish Baroque painters, and one of the greatest geniuses of universal art. At age twelve, he entered the workshop of the Sevillan painter, Francisco Pacheco, as an apprentice. 1617 was a very year important year in the biography of Diego Velázquez: the artist achieved the rank of master, and the following year, he married Juana Pacheco, daughter of his master. He worked in Seville until 1623, when he moved to Madrid. Works that are quite characteristic of these years as a young artist are his still-life paintings with figures, such as "El Almuerzo" ("Peasants at lunch"), Vieja friendo huevos ("Old woman frying eggs") (1618) or El aguador de Sevilla ("The water seller of Seville"). All these works have a typically Manieristic composition. He took his inspiration from Caravaggio, but interpreting it in his own way. He gradually managed to throw off the defects acquired during his youth which can be seen in these paintings; excessive use of chiaroscuro technique, lack of diversity in colour, and the lack of mastery in his landscapes.
His training as a young painter reached its peak during his trip to Madrid, under the protection of the Count-Duke of Olivares. During that period, he painted several royal portraits; Felipe IV, and other portraits such as the Conde-Duque de Olivares ("Count-Duke of Olivares"), and the court buffoons Calabacillas ("The Buffoon Calabazaz"), and the cycle finally ended with his masterpiece of this era, Los borrachos ("The drunkards"). In this way, the painting of Velázquez finally abandoned the tenebrous style of Caravaggio and took on the brighter colours of the Venetian school.
The year 1628 was a milestone in the life of Diego Velázquez, as this was the year when he was introduced to Rubens in Madrid. The following year, he made his first trip to Italy, and stayed for some time in Venice (where he had the opportunity to see the work of Titian and Tintoretto). He then spent one year in Rome. During his stay there, he painted La túnica de José ("The tunic of Joseph") and La fragua de Vulcano "(The Forge of Vulcan").
Upon his return from Italy (1631), Velázquez's work underwent a great change; his paintings were more colourful, and his brush strokes became lighter. During this period, he painted several important religious works such as Coronación de la Virgen ("The crowning of the Virgin"), and various portraits of royalty, including some of the King, Prince Balthasar Carlos and Queen Isabella of France.
His fine sense of composition in Rendición de Breda "(The Surrender of Breda") and his Venus del espejo ("Venus at her mirror"), the first Spanish nude painting, both deserve a special word of praise.
In 1651 he commenced his third and final period in Madrid. The portraits painted during that time show the great maturity of his work. Some of his finest works were painted during this period, for example Las hilanderas ("The spinners") and Las meninas ("Ladies in Waiting"). In the opinion of all the art critics, Velázquez's "Ladies in Waiting" is his most complex and complete work of all.