St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit, 1635 by Diego Velazquez
The earliest of Velázquez's contributions to the decoration of the Retiro is the luminous St Anthony Abbot and St Paul the Hermit, his first picture with an extensive landscape background. It was probably commissioned for the Hermitage. This picture shows several scenes from the legend of these saints simultaneously. In the background, St Anthony is asking a centaur the way to the hermit Paul. As he goes on he meets a homed monster with goat's feet, and on the right he is knocking on the door to the cave. The main scene shows the raven bringing the two saints a loaf of bread from heaven. To the left, we see the closing sequence: two lions are digging a grave for St Paul while St Anthony prays beside his corpse.
Various models have been suggested for this composition, including a woodcut by Albrecht Dürer for the group of figures. The woodcut also shows the raven flying down to bring the hermits a loaf of bread, in the same attitude as in Velázquez's painting. A model for the landscape, of which we have an aerial view, has been traced in the so-called world landscapes of the Flemish artist Joachim Patenier, and the sketch-like dynamics of the brushwork and transparency of the colouring are reminiscent of similar pictures by Rubens.