Old Woman Cooking Eggs

Old Woman Frying Eggs is a genre painting by Diego Velázquez, produced during his Seville period (the date is not precisely known, but is thought to be around the turn of 1618, before his definitive move to Madrid in 1623). It is now in the National Gallery of Scotland, in Edinburgh. Velázquez frequently used working-class characters in early works like this one, in many cases using his family as models – the old woman here also appears in his Christ in the House of Martha and Mary (1618).

Like other early works by the artist, it shows the influence of chiaroscuro, with a strong light source coming in from the left illuminating the woman, her utensils and the poaching eggs, while throwing the background and the boy standing to her right into deep shadow. Here the chiaroscuro is very intense, so much so that it would be impossible to see the wall at the bottom of the painting but for the basket hanging from it, but it also manages to combine the murky darkness and high contrasts of light and shadow with the use of subtle hues and a palette dominated by ochres and browns. The composition is organised as an oval, with the middle figures in the nearest plane, thus drawing in the viewer.

The realism is nearly photographic and shows everyday plates, cutlery, pans, pestles, jugs and mortars, capturing the special shine on a glass surface and the light's play on the melon carried by the boy. The boiling pan is particularly well-captured, with its spitting oil and the whites of the eggs. Velázquez also worked particularly hard on the detail of the two figures's hands.

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