Picasso was baptized Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Crispiniano de la Santísima Trinidad, a series of names honoring various saints and relatives. Added to these were Ruiz and Picasso, for his father and mother, respectively, as per Spanish law. Born in the city of Málaga in the Andalusian region of Spain, he was the first child of Don José Ruiz y Blasco (1838–1913) and María Picasso y López. Picasso’s family was middle-class. His father was a painter who specialized in naturalistic depictions of birds and other game. For most of his life Ruiz was a professor of art at the School of Crafts and a curator of a local museum. Ruiz’s ancestors were minor aristocrats.
Picasso showed a passion and a skill for drawing from an early age. According to his mother, his first words were “piz, piz”, a shortening of lápiz, the Spanish word for ‘pencil’. From the age of seven, Picasso received formal artistic training from his father in figure drawing and oil painting. Ruiz was a traditional, academic artist and instructor who believed that proper training required disciplined copying of the masters, and drawing the human body from plaster casts and live models. His son became preoccupied with art to the detriment of his classwork.
The family moved to A Coruña in 1891, where his father became a professor at the School of Fine Arts. They stayed almost four years. On one occasion the father found his son painting over his unfinished sketch of a pigeon. Observing the precision of his son’s technique, an apocryphal story relates that Ruiz felt that the thirteen-year-old Picasso had surpassed him, and vowed to give up painting, though paintings by Ruiz exist from later years.
In 1895, Picasso was traumatized when his seven-year old sister, Conchita, died of diphtheria. After her death, the family moved to Barcelona, where Ruiz took a position at its School of Fine Arts. Picasso thrived in the city, regarding it in times of sadness or nostalgia as his true home. Ruiz persuaded the officials at the academy to allow his son to take an entrance exam for the advanced class. This process often took students a month, but Picasso completed it in a week, and the impressed jury admitted Picasso, who was 13. The student lacked discipline but made friendships that would affect him in later life. His father rented him a small room close to home so Picasso could work alone, yet Ruiz checked up on him numerous times a day, judging his son’s drawings. The two argued frequently.
Picasso’s father and uncle decided to send the young artist to Madrid’s Royal Academy of San Fernando, the country's foremost art school. At age 16, Picasso set off for the first time on his own, but he disliked formal instruction and quit attending classes soon after enrollment. Madrid, however, held many other attractions. The Prado housed paintings by Diego Velázquez, Francisco Goya, and Francisco Zurbarán. Picasso especially admired the works of El Greco; elements like the elongated limbs, arresting colors, and mystical visages are echoed in Picasso’s later work.