Las Meninas is the most famous and iconic painting by Diego Velazquez. This picture is an illusion, a mirror, and even an autobiography.
The strength of Velazquez's creativity lies in the depths of psychological analysis and the uniquely communicated characters. In his portraits, he did not flatter the models but represented each in individual originality. The ingenuity of the Velazquez method manifested itself in emotional restraint, which revealed an integral unity of the essential character traits of the person’s spiritual and mental structures with all their complexity and contradictions.
The gray tones of his paintings shimmer in many shades and the blacks are light and transparent. The fright tones are warm, blue ones are cold and the dark ones are almost always illuminated by a steady light and form restrained subtle harmonies.
"Las Meninas" is one of the most well-known works in the collection of the Prado Museum. It is deliberately placed very low on the wall - so that the viewer is almost on par with the characters. That’s how the viewer feels as part of the masterpiece.
Though the plot of Las Meninas is multi-faceted, it can be interpreted. The 5-year-old Infanta came to the artist's workshop, accompanied by her retinue. She wanted to see how a portrait of her parents, the royal couple, was created.
Velazquez depicted this scene unexpectedly uniquely. Half of the characters seem to be looking at us. But in reality, they are looking at the king and queen, whom Velazquez is drawing. Therefore, he stands next to the canvas. We learn this fact from the mirror behind the artist. It reflects images of Philip IV and his wife Mariana of Austria.
Velazquez has done an amazing thing here. The point of view of Las Meninas is that of the king and queen, and every future viewer. That is how the artist allures the viewer as much as possible into the space of the picture and significantly expands it. In the background, Don José Nieto Velázquez opened the door as he probably let in the infanta. "Las Meninas" resembles a portal between two worlds, connecting the world on the picture with our reality.
Velazquez managed to depict the infanta’s retinue, including dwarfs. Nobody was allowed such impudence before him, and Velazquez didn’t stop there. He portrayed himself next to the king's family. None of the royal artists dared to do such a thing before. Velázquez put himself in the atmosphere, which for 30 years has been the content of his life. Being a part of this reality, he was also its creator. That’s why “Las Meninas” is both Velasquez’s best autobiography and his manifesto about the artist’s place in society.
For three hundred years, scientists and art historians have been trying to solve Las Meninas’ secrets. The French philosopher Michel Foucault was said to adore this picture and train his mind examining it.
It is interesting that the paintings on the back wall of the picture are recognized as Minerva Punishing Arachne and Apollo's Victory Over Marsyas. Both stories involve Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom and patron of the arts.
According to art critic Dawson Carr, the elusive essence of Las Meninas suggests the illusory nature of both art and life itself. The relationship between reality and illusion was one of the central problems in Spanish culture of the 17th century.
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“A picture is a poem without words” Horace
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Phoenix Voyage Creative Team