In Roman mythology, Vulcan was the god of fire, volcanoes, and metalworking. He is often depicted in the forge with a blacksmith’s hammer in hand, as is the case here. Vulcan has just been interrupted in his work by Apollo, who brings news of his wife Venus’ infidelities with Mars, the god of war. Ironically, Vulcan is forging Mars’ armor while Mars is getting busy with Vulcan’s wife.
Velázquez beautifully paints these idealized, classical male bodies positioned in classical poses, yet the heads are not idealized. The faces look like those of contemporary peasants; even that of the god Vulcan. The expressions of shock on the worker’s faces is idiosyncratic, and quite frankly, comical. The result is a heady mix of the genre painting and classical painting, seriousness and fun.