Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was born in the Andalusian town of Seville on June 6, 1599. His father, Juan Rodríguez de Silva, was a lawyer of Portuguese descent, his mother, Jerónima Velázquez was a member of lower-class nobility. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez's education comprised lessons in languages and philosophy. Due to his artistic talent he began as an apprentice to the painter Francisco Herrera, when he was only 10 years old.
In 1610 he continued his apprenticeship under Francisco Pacheco. In 1618 Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez received Pacheco's permission to marry his daughter Juana and after their wedding he began to work as an independent artist. He painted from nature and live models and developed into the greatest naturalist of the Spanish school.
From 1620 Velázquez had a great reputation as an artist in Seville. In April 1622 Velázquez went to Madrid. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez attracted the attention of the Spanish court with a portrait he had painted of the Spanish poet Luís de Góngora. In late 1622 Philipp IV's highly respected court painter Villandrando died. In spring 1623 Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez was summoned to Madrid by Olivarez.
Juan de Fonseca accommodated the young painter and modeled for him for a portrait. Due to this portrait Velázquez received great admiration at court, and was finally allowed to paint Philipp IV. He was also appointed royal painter. He produced a sensitive though not idealized portrait of the king, which reflected the royal dignity even without depicting the usual insignia of power.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez's entered into the service of the Spanish king as a court painter on October 6, 1623. In 1624 he received a studio in the royal palace. In 1628 Peter Paul Rubens came to Madrid as a guest for nine months. Rubens inspired Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez to travel to Italy and to see the great works of the Italian painters. In 1629 Philipp IV granted Velázquez unpaid leave and enabled him to travel to Italy.
Twenty years passed until his second Italian trip. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez's reputation at the royal court was well rooted. He was entrusted with the artistic design of numerous buildings for the Spanish king. In 1634-35 Velázquez produced a series of paintings for the large ceremonial room at the new royal palace Buen Retiro in Madrid and in 1636 he extended the hunting pavilion Torre de la Parada, which already contained numerous paintings by Rubens. De Silva y Velazquez added hunting portraits and pictures of dwarfs and jesters. Velázquez was respected and appreciated for his artwork, and rose in the ranks of the court's hierarchy.
In late 1648 Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez traveled to Italy again, this time on behalf of the king in order to purchase artwork as models for an art academy, which was to be established in Madrid. His stay in Italy ended in June 1651, after he had painted a portrait of Pope Innocence X that turned out to be one of the best papal portraits ever to be painted. Having returned to Madrid, Velázquez's work as a court painter intensified, after the Spanish king's second marriage to Maria Anna of Austria. His hard work in the service of the king left its marks on his health.
Diego Rodríguez de Silva fell ill with a "heated fever", from which he died on August 6, 1660 in Madrid.