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Las Meninas

The scene could be taking place in the painter’s studio which was located in the palace of Philip IV. The painting is an oil on canvas found at the Muses del Prod in Madrid which measures more than three meters long by roughly three meters wide. It shows near life-sized characters and an impressive spatial construction with an overwhelming sense of realism. The artist’s impressive work relies on the effect of the brushwork and on the delicate harmony of the colors, shapes and characters.

The important cast of characters, including the presence of the artist, and the militaries of the painting make it ambiguous and thus a challenge to interpret. Several characters are presented, who are identified as from the Spanish court. In the center of the painting stands the young princess, daughter of the King, Infant Margarita Teresa. She is surrounded by two meanings, a chaperone, two dwarfs, a bodyguard and a dog. However, even if she represents the main subject of the scene, her entourage does not seem to direct their attention to her.

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On the left side in the dark, is the mysterious presence of the artist himself gazing beyond the pictorial space to where a peculator would be standing. The artist actually portrayed himself painting another canvas. The fact that Velasquez includes himself in the portrait of the royal family and in such size shows that he considered himself being important enough to be represented as a member of the royal family. Although the painter portrays himself in the painting, he is not the central figure of the work.

On the back wall hangs a mirror which reflects the portrait of King Philip IV and Queen Marina, suggesting it is the actual reflection of the artist’s canvas. This technique, known under the name of miss en abeam, is found in Van Cock’s Arranging Portrait. It is said that Velasquez was influenced by Van Cock’s painting, since it was actually hanging in the palace at the moment Lass Meanings was being painted. However, it does not have the same purpose. Van Cock’s concave mirror represents the reflection of the actual scene whereas Velasquez shows a less complex reflection of a specific detail.

This mirror is confusing and causes the spectator to reconsider what the reflection actually is. Does it reflect the painter’s canvas ? Or does it reflect the King and Queen themselves, hidden in the painting ? Many authors have tried to explain this mystery. The most common interpretation suggests that the royal couple was actually posing for Velasquez while their daughter is admiring them. This theory would suggest that the artist did not paint what he saw, but rather what the royal couple saw. However, the mirror is off center, meaning it is difficult to ascertain the presence of the couple.

Some authors have argued that It would have been impossible for the mirror to be placed so refectory that we could see a balanced portrait of the couple. It is thus more likely that it reflects a painting hanging on the opposite wall. Another theory suggests that what looks like a mirror in the background is actually a painted portrait of the royal couple, illuminated as a symbol of respect and to show their presence. This mirror is thus an element of mystery and subject of debate. However, it is very unusual to represent the royal couple as secondary characters since the King is usually the center of attention.

His presence is actually discreet and does not take part in the scene. The physical absence of the King in this scene can also be interpreted from another perspective. The role of a royal portrait is to be remembered at all times, since the King cannot be physically present everywhere at the same time. Thus the presence of the royal couple through a portrait shows that, even if they are not physically present, they affirm their presence and power over the country. It is a way of showing that they should be respected and thought of at all moments.

Velasquez actually includes himself in a royal scene while physically excluding the monarch. The fact that the King accepted this painting shows that he respected the artist. It is said that Philip IV himself added the Red Cross of the order of Santiago, which Velasquez is wearing, a few years after the masterpiece was finished. The Red Cross is a very prestigious distinction to honor the painter. These elements prove that Velasquez was a respectable and honorable artist Of the king, who he considered as a member of his rank. The light is not evenly reflected in the painting.

Starting with the illuminated face of the little princess, the light becomes decreases towards the back of the scene. The essential light comes from the upper right, probably from a window, which partly lights Velasquez face. This room must have several windows seen in diminishing sizes, which creates the effect of a deep room. The light must be entering from the first window and the last one, at the end of the room. These effects of light and color are elements which define this work as a masterpiece. The artist’s refined technique highlights and distinguishes the various textures in the painting, such as clothing, hair and the dog.

Lass Meanings is a painting that seems very conventional at first, but actually ides a great number of elements which are not considered as norms of the painting of the seventeenth century. The protagonist of the scene is the little princess, Infant Margarita Teresa. However, she is not the most important character in the painting. The King and Queen are represented discreetly in the background but are yet present to show their power. Even if they are not physically present, their presence is felt. The painter occupies a great part of the painting, which is probably a way of showing his importance in the King’s life.

Velars Suez spent most of his professional life working for the Spanish court. The artist was very talented, which also explains why the King wanted him to project his image favorably to the public. This painting is the only one where Velasquez represents himself, making it his only self-portrait. The scene in the picture remains full of mystery and ambiguous elements. Many authors and researchers have tried to interpret these confusing elements, which are still the subject of debate. However these differing interpretations are what make the masterpiece so intriguing, even after so many centuries.


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