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Art and Images in Psychiatry
March 7, 2011

Portrait of Francisco Lezcano–The “Niño de Vallecas”

Author Affiliations

Copyright 2011 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.2011

Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(3):229. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.13

We dwarfs have no homeland, no parents; we allow ourselves to born of strangers, in secret . . . so that our race should not die out . . . they sell us to powerful princes that we may amuse them with our misshapen bodies and be their jesters . . . thus did my mother sell me. . . . –Pars Lagervist, The Dwarf1(p15)

The Spanish court of Philip IV (1605-1665) was exceptional for the number of jesters, dwarfs, and people with disabilities who lived under royal patronage and traveled with the king. More exceptional still were the realistic and sensitive portraits of them (cover, Figure) by court painter Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Velázquez painted dwarfs along with their royal patrons, including young princes (Figure) and princesses,2,3 and as individuals (cover), demonstrating that they were part of the royal family. Although the modern viewer might assume that their inclusion in palace life was evidence of royal concern about the welfare of those who were less fortunate, their inclusion was primarily for the entertainment of the royal household and companionship for the royal children. Members of the royal entourage constantly flattered and vied with one another to gain the favor of the king while jesters and dwarfs were frequently allowed to bluntly speak their minds or joke about royal affairs. Because most court dwarfs were intelligent, some assumed positions of importance. One, Don Diego de Acedo (“el Primo”),2 is depicted by Velázquez with a large book.