The Jewish ancestry of Velasquez

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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 Miserz'com’z'a 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" 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 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

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