I bloody love Las Meninas




Velasquez's Las Meninas may be one of the most widely analysed paintings in the history of EVER, but that doesn't mean you can't look into it and see something entirely of your own.



It's a hell of a noggin-scratcher, and doesn't quite fit into any pigeon holes. The scene shows court artist Velasquez at his easel, so in that respect, it's a self-portrait. But although at first glance it looks like you can't see who he's painting, you can. Their reflection is in the mirror. He's painting the king and queen, and because of the composition, it kinda feels like he's painting you. Ego boost, huh? There's that, and the fact that most people in the image are turned towards you. It's all very flattering - until you remember that you're not actually the subject of this portrait.

I love it when a painting explores a deep issue like the ego!

The five year old girl in the central light is the King's daughter, Margarita Teresa. She is flanked by her meninas (her ladies in waiting, or maids of honour), which makes it a genre painting of court life with, apparently, the token dwarves. Was that a standard thing in Spanish court? I don't know.

Everyone in this image is important in their own way. I won't pretend I get worlds of meaning out of each and every one of them, but this is the type of painting that a) is different for everyone and b) makes you notice something new every time you look at it. So although something might seem of small importance the first time you look at it, that's not necessarily the case.



For instance, I understand there are volumes written about old blokey in the doorway. I've never really found him that interesting, when we could be considering the fact that the subjects of the portrait are reduced to a reflection in a far-off mirror. But as I just said, everything here is important.

There's a big debate about whether he's just entering or just leaving, and what that could mean for the scene. By hinting that the outside world actually exists, by pulling back the curtain, he stops us from feeling too claustrophobic in this bizarre little set up. He also draws your eye outward, away from the room; while the king and queen's reflection in the mirror pushes the eye forward. Good balancing technique. The figure is Don Jose Nieto Velasquez, and it was basically his job to open and close doors for the queen (damn, I should have been a queen), which I reckon means this painting shows the king and queen getting ready to exit, now the painter has finished studying them.

Like Manet's A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, I could go on forever about it, but I'll leave it there and let you have a think about what else you can see in this oddly fascinating composition.

For further reading, check out this blog's interpretation of how 'self-aware' the painting is.

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