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.