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Velázquez's abilities as both painter and observer make him one of the great portraitists of Western painting; this early work is among his most incisive psychological studies. Painted during Velázquez's first trip to court, this portrait may well have led to his first royal commission and swift appointment as a court painter. Gongora, one of Spain's leading poets, had become cynical and embittered during his years at court. The painter shapes his formidable head with broad, smoothly blended brushstrokes that create both the form and texture of Gongora's features, his tight, downturned mouth, and guarded gaze.

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