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The Jewish ancestry of Velasquez

Edgar Samuel

<plain_text><page sequence="1">The Jewish ancestry of Velasquez EDGAR SAMUEL1 In 1658 King Philip IV of Spain made Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velasquez, who had served him for thirty years as his painter and as the Chief Superintend? ent of the Palace, a Knight of the Order of Santiago.2 Almost everything known about Velasquez' ancestry comes from the one-hundred 'proofs' which had to be collected before he could be admitted to that Order. One of these refers to his paternal grandfather, Diego Rodriguez de Silva, as an alderman of the city of Oporto and a member of the Misericordia charity there, who migrated to Seville together with his wife.3 Another states that Velasquez never sold a single painting, because he only painted for the king's pleasure,4 which we know was not true. It was fairly usual in the reign of Philip IV for knighthoods in the orders of chivalry to be conferred on men of known Jewish origin, in spite of the rules of the orders which prohibited this. One notorious case was that of Manuel Cortissos y Villasante, a leading Madrid banker and Secretary of the Cortes of Castile. Philip IV made him a Knight of Calatrava in 1644 together with his brothers and brothers-in-law.5 The statutes of the orders of Santiago and Cala? trava contained an absolute prohibition against the admission of any person of Jewish or Moorish blood, but Cortissos's ancestry was Jewish on all sides. One of his sons later became president of the Amsterdam synagogue.6 The king of Spain's servants had the problem of carrying out the king's command and at the same time complying with the statutes of the Order, which could not be altered without enormous difficulty. They solved their problem quite simply by faking the evidence. Cortissos signed a certificate that he was a pure Old Chris? tian without a drop of Jewish blood, and other 'proofs' of the same kind were collected. These were then reinforced by a dispensation from the Pope agreeing to the admission of Manuel Cortissos to the Order of Calatrava, despite the fact that his father had been a trader.7 In the case of Velasquez, the procedure was similar and one-hundred 'proofs' were obtained certifying that the painter was free of any trace of Jewish or Moorish blood. In the light of the Cortissos case, however, it is obvious that these had no significance, but they were reinforced by a papal dispensation agreeing that Diego de Silva y Velasquez might be admitted to the Order of Santiago, in spite of the fact that his paternal grandfather and both his maternal grandparents were not of noble rank. So far the evidence is fairly neutral, but one part of the procedure was so 27</page><page sequence="2">Edgar Samuel bizarre that it arouses suspicion. Portugal had become independent of Spain in 1641, and since the two countries were at war with each other, it was not possible for Spanish officials to visit Oporto. The heraldic officers decided therefore to investigate Velasquez' genealogy from Monterrey and Tuy, two Spanish towns on the northern border of Portugal. In the prison at Tuy they found a Portug? uese prisoner of war named Silva and questioned him. Was he a New Christian or an Old Christian? We need not be surprised that, having no desire to be handed over to the Inquisition, he answered that he was an Old Christian. And the other Silvas in Portugal, were they New Christians? He answered that all of the Silvas in Portugal were noble and Old Christians.8 With a 'proof of this quality the reader begins to realize that Velasquez' father must have been a New Christian or there would have been no occasion to go through with such a nonsensical enquiry. Moreover, there is further indirect evidence to show that he was. The Jews of medieval Spain and Portugal observed an ancient custom of choosing their children's names in a fixed order, as follows: the eldest son was given his paternal grandfather's name; the eldest daughter her paternal grand? mother's name; the second son his maternal grandfather's name; and the second daughter her maternal grandmother's name. The other sons and daughters were usually but not always given the names of their uncles and aunts in order of seniority.9 This was a custom of great antiquity based on a Greek practice which Jews adopted and adapted in the Hellenistic period.10 Many Portuguese New Chris? tian families followed it long after the forced baptism of 1497,11 and it is a good indication of Jewish origin. From the baptismal registers of Seville it would seem that the Rodriguez de Silva family followed this practice. Velasquez' parents married on 28 December 1597 in the Church of San Pedro in Seville. According to the register, Juan Rodriguez de Silva, son of Diego Rodriguez and of Maria Rodriguez de Silva, married Jeronima Velasquez, daughter of Juan Velasquez Moreno and Juana Mexia.12 The names of the parents of the couple were Diego, Maria, Juan and Juana. When their children were born they were baptized in the churches of San Pedro and San Vicente; their names were Diego (1 June 1599), Juan (28 January 1601), Juana (1 June 1602), Fernando (2 May 1604), Silvestre (17 December 1606) and Juana (13 September 1609).13 The three oldest children were named after their grandparents, but if the family had followed the Jewish practice exactly there would have been an elder daughter named Maria. It is quite possible that such a daughter might have been born before Diego and baptized in another parish, but we have no evidence. Despite the lack of a Maria, the other children's names follow the Iberian Jewish custom exactly, especially in the case of the maternal grandparents. It seems to me therefore that Velasquez' father must have been of Jewish origin and that his mother may also 28</page><page sequence="3">The Jewish ancestry of Velasquez have been. On the other hand, there is no trace of this Jewish practice in the names chosen by the painter for his own children, from which I conclude that the tradi? tion of secret Judaism died out in his parents' generation. We know little about Velasquez' father, Juan Rodriguez de Silva. The name is a common one; however, in 1596 the Mexican Inquisition condemned a Juan Rodriguez de Silva to death in absentia for Judaizing,14 burnt his effigy at a great auto de fe in Mexico City and hung his sanbenito - the robe of a convicted apostate - in the cathedral.15 He was described as unmarried and ajabonero, or soap-boiler.16 Could he possibly have been the father of Velasquez, who married one year later in Seville? The Mexican Inquisitors had discovered a secret Jewish conventicle led by Luis de Carvajal, who was the nephew of the Portuguese New Christian gov? ernor of the province of Nuevo Leon. Juan Rodriguez de Silva was one of the group who escaped arrest by the Inquisitors in 1590. In 1591 he had left Mexico and was living in Madrid, where a Ferrara Jew of Portuguese origin named Ishac Nieto, alias Diego Dias Nieto, who had known him in the ghetto of Ferrara, met him. In 1593 Nieto, on his way out to Mexico, met him again, this time living in Seville in the house of one Bianca Lorenzo who kept the Jewish dietary laws. He told Nieto that he had visited a very rich Portuguese New Christian captain in Lisbon, who followed Judaism. He had asked him for charity and had been given one thousand ducats by way of alms. In 1595 the Mexican Inquisition arrested Nieto, but it was only in 1601 that the Inquisitors extracted a full confession from him.17 He then deposed that Juan Rodriguez de Silva was born in Portugal, but that he did not know precisely where. He had emigrated to Salonica where he con? verted to Judaism, was circumcised, learnt some words of Hebrew and had had a wife. After living as a Jew in Ferrara he went to Mexico, where he traded in silver until 1590 when his friends were arrested by the Inquisition and he had had to escape. He practised Judaism, taught Jewish practices to the others and owned a book of Jewish prayers in Spanish couplets. They all kept the Passover, eating tortillas instead of bread, and fasted on Kippur, also called the Great Day of the Lord (Dia Grande del Senor). He described him as being, in 1593, between thirty-four and thirty-five years of age, of a good height, well built, white, with a fair beard and a cloudy left eye. Juan Rodriguez de Silva is a common name. There could have been two different Portuguese New Christians named Juan Rodriguez de Silva and living in Seville in 1596; one, who had fled from the Mexican Inquisition and been condemned to death for Judaizing in his absence and the other the father of Velasquez; but it seems more likely that they were one and the same. There is a conflict of evidence. According to Velasquez, his father was born in Seville to Portuguese parents. Juan Rodriguez de Silva, who had fled from Mexico to Seville, was said to have been born in Portugal. Perhaps, after avoiding being 29</page><page sequence="4">Edgar Samuel burnt at the stake, escaping from Mexico, marrying and conforming to Catholic practice in Seville, he might have been left in peace. In any case, there is no reason to doubt that Velasquez and his father were of Jewish origin. If that is so, how did this affect his career as a painter? I think that there are two points of interest. In the first place, two of Velasquez' earliest portraits were painted for New Christian clerical clients: the Franciscan nun, Dona Jeronima de la Fuente18 and the poet, Father Luis de Gongora.19 Perhaps an awareness of common origin helped him to win their patronage and this led on to the Count-Duke of Olivares noticing his talent as an artist. In the second place, being a member of an unpopular and persecuted minority might have increased his ambition to win approval and to attain success. When Diego de Silva y Velasquez, the greatest of Spanish painters, received the robes of a knight of the Order of Santiago, perhaps his father's sanbenito still hung in Mexico Cathedral? Acknowledgements I should like to thank Dr Enriqueta Frankfurt of the Warburg Institute; Pro? fessor Eva Alexandra Uchmany of the Universidade Aut?noma de Mexico and Professor Antonio Maria de Vasconcelos de Saldanha of the University of Lisbon for help and useful discussions. NOTES 1 Miscel?nia Historica de Portugal IV (Lisbon 1984) included an earlier version of this article in Portuguese: A Ascendencia Israelita de Velasquez, but this text contains further fresh evidence. 2 Varia Velasquena - Homaje d Velasquez en el III centen?rio de su merte 1600-1960 (Madrid i960) 11, 303. 3 Ibid. 368. 4 Ibid. no. 84, p. 329; and see Appendix 1 below. 5 Julio Caro Baroja, La Sociedad Criptojudia en la Corte de Felipe V (Academia Real de Historia. Madrid) 67. 6 Charles Rubens, 'Joseph Cortissos and the War of the Spanish Succession' Trans JHSE 24 (1975) 121, n. 12, 132. 7 Caro Baroja (see n. 5). 8 Varia Velasquena (see n. 2). 9 Edgar Samuel, 'New Light on the Selection of Jewish Children's Names' Trans JHSE 24 (1975) 171-2. 10 Ibid. 69-74. 11 Ibid. 68, 171. 12 Varia Velasquena (see n. 2). 13 Ibid. 14 Archivo General de la Naci?n, Mexico, Ramo de Inquisici?n T 153 exp. 5 f. 32 LProcesso contra Juan Rodriguez de Silva, Portugues, Vezino de Mexico, moco soltero judaysante auste\ 15 'List of the Sanbenitos of the condemned Jews placed in the Cathedral Church of Mexico between 1528 and 1603', Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society 31 (1928) 29. 16 AGN, Mexico. Ramo de Inquisici?n T 159 F. 361 Processo de Diego Diaz Nieto . . . and also Eva Alexandra Uchmany, La vida entre el judatsmo y el cristianismo en la Nueva Espana 1580-1606 (Mexico 1992), which contains a full account of the trials and interrogation of Diego Diaz Nieto. 17 See Appendix 2 below. 18 Jose Gomez Menor, Cristianos Nuevos y Mercaderes de Toledo (Toledo 1970) third illustration and text. 19 Antonio Dominguiz Ortiz, Los Judeoconversos en Espana y America (Madrid, n.d.) 209-110. 30</page><page sequence="5">The Jewish ancestry of Velasquez Appendices i The 'proof of Francisco Zurbaran (from Varia Velasquena\ see n. 4 above) 'Testigo 86. - En dicha villa, dicho dia, mes y ano dichos, se reciuio por testigo Francisco ?urbaran Salafar, natural de Fuente de Cantos en la prouincia de Leon, en Estremadura, y vecino de la Ciudad de Seuilla, residente en esta villa de siete meses a esta part, el qual juro en forma de derecho y. . . . dixo que conoce a Diego de Silua Velasquez, pretendiente que es de la Orden del Senor Santiago y ayuda de camara de Su Magestad y su aposentador de palacio quar enta anos ha, y que conocio a sus padres Joan Rodriguez de Silua y dona Geron ima Velasquez a quienes, tiene por naturales de dicha ziudad de Seuilla porque asi lo a oido y entendido publicamente sin contradicion alguna y que aunque no conocio a los abuelos paternos de dicho pretendiente, saue se llamaron Diego Rodriguez de Silua y dona Maria Rodriguez, y que eran de nacion portuguesa de la ziudad de Oporto en el reyno de Portugal; que de los abuelos maternos no saue sus naturales sino es por mayor, que eran de jente muy principal; y que a todos los nombrados los tiene por lexitimos de matrimonio sin vastardia ni natur aleza, y de los que no conocio no a oido cosa en contrario; que tambien los tiene a todos los referidos por limpios christianos viexos sin ra$a alguna de judio, moro o conuerso en ningun grado, por apartado y remoto que sea, y que a ninguno dellos ni a otro alguno, de sus acendientes les toque ni queda tocar penitencia prision ni relaxacion por el Tribunal de la Inquisicion ni otro alguno por ningun defecto ni crimen cometido contra nuestra Santa Fee, antes saue que en la familia del pretendiente a hauido familiar de la Inquisicion de Seuilla ansi por el apellido de Silua como por el de Velasquez, que no se acuerda de los nombres ni del grado que tenian con el pretendiente, a quien tamuien tiene y a los dichos sus padres y abuelos por nobles e hijosdalgo al usso fuero y costumbre de Espana, porque la estimacion y lustre con que se an portado pretendiente, padres y abuelos, es muy notoria; y de que los dichos Diego Rodriguez de Silva y dona Maria Rodriguez vinieron de dicha ziudad de Oporto a dicha ziudad de Seuilla, y que eran de la familia de los Siluas de dicha ziudad de Oporto, que ay entre Duero y Mino, y de lo mas calificado, noble y lustroso de aquel reyno; y en esta opinion estan tenidos y reputados en dicha ziudad de Seuilla sin contra? dicion alguna como es publico y notorio en ella; que no hubieron los dichos oficio vil, ni mecanico ni vaxo, de los que comprehenre la sexta pregunta, porque como a declarado de los padres que conocio los vio siempre tratarse con mucho lustre y estimacion, y de los abuelos tiene noticia se tratauan y sustentauan de la misma suerte. Y en quanto al prettendiente dice que ni en dicha ziudad de Seuilla ni en esta Corte a tenido oficio ninguno si no es el del pintor de Su Magestad, y que a cuidado y cuida del alino de su real palacio sein que jamas se le aya conocido tener tienda ni aparador como otros pintores; que siempre a tenido la estimacion que haora, como es notorio y publico en esta Corte y como 31</page><page sequence="6">Edgar Samuel lo es en dicha cuidad de Suilla sin contradicion alguna; y si hubiera algo en contra de lo que dice el testigo, lo supiera, por haver muchos anos que conoce al pretediente y sus padres; lo qual es la verdad. . . .y ser de edad de sesenta anos. . 2 Extract from the Inquisition processo of Diego Diaz Nieto (quoted in the processo of Jorge de Almeyda [American Jewish Historical Society Mss]; see n. 17 above) Interrogatory of 17 January 1601 'Yttem dixo que en la dicha Villa de Madrid conoscio este aun Ju?. Rodriguez Silva Portugues no sabe de donde es natural mas de que ha estado en la Juderia de Cerunique que es en tierra del grand Turco, y savia alguna cossa dela lengua Hebrea y dixo aeste de avian circuncidado en la dicho Juderia y possava en casa At Jorge de Almeida cunhado de Luis de Carvajal que vivia junto al correo mayor en una casa de posadas de una Viuda Jubetera y se declaro con este ser Judio y guardar la ley de Moysen y este con el en ocassion de tratar aeste de la Juderia de ferrara, y el dho Ju? Rodriguez de Silva dela de Cerunique y tanbien dela de ferrara donde avia estado, y fue coneste a su, posda y este dexo alos dhos Jorge de Almeida y Ju? Rz, de Silva en Sevilla en cassa de Bianca Lorenzo hermana de un Pelayo Alvarez que estava en esta tierra que vivia detras dela alameda en la calle de Virgine adonde estava tanbien un Miguel Hernandez hern?, del dho Jorge de Almeida y este y el dho su padre Ruy Diez se declaron assi mesmo ser Judios y guardar la ley de Moyssen con el dho Miguel Hern2 y el dho Miguel Hernandez con este y con el dho su pe en presencia del dho Juan Rodriguez de Silba y de Domingo Cuello reconciliado que fue por este sancto ofP, y estevio estando enfermo en cassa della dha Bianca Lorenco, alos dhos Miguel Hernandez y Ju? Rodriguez tomar uma limeta grande de Vino que hazia un acumbre hech ando la vendinciones y alcando la enalto remedando al sacerdote qudo alca elraliz y dando de golpes en una sarten como que era campanilla y luego bevian de la dha limeta gasta acavarla, y al dho Miguel Hernandez vio este borracho mas de quatro, o cinco vezes, y al Ju? Rodriguez asomado, y el dho Ju? Rodriguez dixo aeste que en la ciudad de Lisboa avia un capitan muy rico que aun que declaro su nombre por aora no se acuerda, el qual era Judio y guardava la ley de Moyssen y que el dho Juan Rodriguez aviaydo a pedir elimosna y le avia dado cien ducados, y endende este que la dha Bianca Lorenzo guardava la ley de Moyssen por tener alos dhos Judios en su cassa y por aver le visto degollar los aves y de selar la carne y hecharla en agua para que se desangrasse.' 32</page></plain_text>