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A simple, peaceful painting titled 'The Needlewoman' (or La costurera in Spanish) is currently housed in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
The Needlewoman is by Diego Velazquez and is an oil-on-canvas painting completed in the first half of the 17th Century.
Diego Velazquez was a leading artist for the court of King Philip IV of Spain. He is remembered now as one of the main players in Spain's Golden Age of art, and it is easy to see why when examining 'The Needlewoman'.
The young woman sits hunched over her work, stitching at an unknown garment with skill and concentration. It is a simple domestic scene which therefore hits home even today. Due to the way the image seems incomplete, the woman almost appears to melt into the background, giving the painting an ethereal effect on top of the domesticity.
The painting is unusual for Velazquez's usual portrait style as the woman is not looking at the viewer but rather down at her own work. Because of this, it has an intimate feel about it; it is almost as though the viewer is interrupting a normal moment in the young woman's life.
It is because of this that the painting continues to appeal to many viewers who appreciate a slice-of-life approach to art above a more formal style. Since there are other paintings in Velazquez's oeuvre that share features with this model, it is possible that she was well-known to the artist, perhaps even his daughter. That would explain how Velazquez was able to create such a simple but touching painting.
It is also notable that The Needlewoman is not anything to do with the Royal Family, which was Velazquez's usual subject due to his position at the Spanish Court.
Where many of his paintings depict women and men dressed in elaborate finery that almost seems ridiculous in style to the modern viewer, this young needlewoman is wearing plain and humble clothes and does not appear to be stitching anything more complex than a plain cloth. It is a stark contrast from many of his works, and therefore a pleasing one to many who appreciate the simple things.
Velazquez is one of the most important painters of his time, and with The Needlewoman we have the chance to view his talent without the pressures of portraying the Royal Family of Spain. Though it is not his best known or best loved work, The Needlewoman is nonetheless a fine show of Velazquez's ability to portray tone and gesture efficiently.