Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Las Meninas

I was intrigued the first time I saw this famous Velazquez painting at The Prado museum in Madrid. The masterpiece looms large as you face it. Eventually, if you stand there long enough, the sense of being observed descends over you.

The admirer becomes the admired.

So who exactly is the subject of the painting? Ostensibly, it is Margarite, the oldest daughter of the King and Queen of Spain. But, if you look further, you see that Velazquez puts himself within the portrait. The artist as the observer, standing, watching, as he paints his canvas in this scene from the royal court. Is it the observed or the observer that he is painting? Your eye wanders to the mirror as it reflects the objects in the background. Is it the King and Queen who are the watchers he is painting? Is it you, the audience who he is reflecting upon and capturing with his instinctive, burrowing eye? Is it himself or someone else?

Much has been written about this classic example of that period in 1656. Some have speculated that by including the faded portrait of the royals in the background, he was, in fact, predicting the faded glory of the Spanish empire and the eventual downfall of the crown.

This painting was done at the pinnacle of his career. Every superb technique of the artist is brought to the fore in this one creation. Created 4 years before his death, this is an outstanding example of Baroque art and a model for the later impressionist and realist painters, including those of the modern age who have claimed his influence and recreated his paintings in many forms. It is one of those objects of art which allows reflection in a multitude of ways, which of course, makes it endlessly fascinating to contemplate.

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