Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan (Spanish: Apolo en la Fragua de Vulcano), sometimes referred to as Vulcan’s Forge, is an oil painting by Diego de Velázquez completed after his first visit to Italy in 1629. Critics agree that the work should be dated to 1630, the same year as his companion painting Joseph’s Tunic. It appears that neither of the two paintings were commissioned by the king, although both became part of the royal collections within a short time. The painting became part of the collection of the Museo del Prado, in Madrid, in 1819.
Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan has been cited as one of the most important works from Velázquez’s first trip to Italy and “one of his most successful compositions with regard to the unified, natural interaction of the figures.”
The painting depicts the moment when the god Apollo, identifiable by the crown of laurel on his head, visits Vulcan, who is found making weapons for war. The god Apollo tells Vulcan that his wife, Venus, is having an affair with Mars, the god of war. For this reason, the other figures in the room are looking in urprise at the god who has just appeared before them, some of them even opening their mouths to indicate surprise.
Velázquez was inspired to create this work by an engraving by Antonio Tempesta, modifying it greatly and centering the narrative action on the arrival of Apollo, using a classical baroque style. It emphasises contemporary interest in nude figures, influenced by Greco-Roman statuary and the classical movement of Guido Reni. The frieze-style method of composition could also come from Reni. On the other hand, the clear shades of the figure of Apollo are reminiscent of Guercino.
This work was created in Rome without commission at the request of the painter Peter Paul Rubens who had also visited Spain in 1629. Velázquez painted two large canvases in the house of the Spanish ambassador. These two canvases formed a pair and were brought back to Spain with his luggage: Joseph’s Tunic and Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan.
The subject is taken from Roman mythology, specifically from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Velázquez interpreted the scene into a strictly human version, with contemporary figures. Apollo is seen wearing a toga which leaves his torso exposed to view. Vulcan, in this picture, is just a blacksmith, as are his helpers, who are men from the village who know the trade. Vulcan is staring at him in astonishment after having heard the news of his wife’s adultery with the god Mars, for whom he is forging armour at this very moment. The cave in which the blacksmith god forges weapons for the other deities in this painting is shown as a smithy, similar to those Velázquez could have seen in Spain or in Rome. With characteristic mastery Velázquez also painted a variety of objects which would be commonly found in a forge.
Velázquez interest in nudes is not surprising, and evidence of this appears as early as his arrival in Madrid in 1623, although the appearance of them in his works increased after his first visit to Italy in the years 1629–1631.