Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies

Induction and Reception of Dignity in Diego Velázquez’s Portraits of Court Dwarfs

Journal of Literary & Cultural Disability Studies (2020), 14, (2), 187–202.


The article analyses three single portraits of court dwarfs by Spanish court painter Velázquez (1599–1660). From the 1960s onwards, the verdict of art historical evaluation and ekphrasis (the literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art) has been that of a dignified representation, a notion of the artist granting the sitters a dignity society allegedly denied them. The article analyses how that impression is achieved in each of the three portraits and—given the fact that their art historical evaluation up until the late 1950s has been much less favourable—comes to the conclusion that a viewer’s verdict on the portraits is always affected and influenced by the current take society has on disability and disabled people and is detached from the actual intention of the artist and the sitters’ situation in the time of origin. The unfavourable verdicts of centuries past can thus be explained. Hence, the impression of a dignified representation stems—for the most part—from the ideals of a modern society dealing with disabled people in a respectful, empathizing manner.

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Author details

Derksen, Maximilian