Ca. 1626. Oil on canvas, 122.5 x 87 cm.
A sumptuously dressed and armed dwarf holds a ruler's staff, an attribute of power that cannot have corresponded to his status. He was probably one of the court buffoons, who were showered with presents and dressed in ostentatious luxury. Since the sixteenth century, portraits of these figures were quite customary, although it was Velázquez who explored this genre with singular mastery. The date generally attributed to this extraordinary portrait indicates that the model might be Bartolillo, a dwarf whose presence in the Palace is documented between 1621 and 1626. Juan van der Hamen was best known for his excellent still lifes, although he also made religious paintings and portraits of high quality, like the present one. Notable here, besides the marked detail and tenebrist lighting, is the expressive strength of the protagonist, who is portrayed with enormous dignity and an expression that is practically defiant.