In this video, we analyse the artistic achievement represented by ‘Las Meninas’ – translated to ‘The Ladies-in-waiting’) – a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, housed in Madrid’s Museo del Prado.
Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, here depicts the main chamber in the Royal Alcazar of Madrid, during the reign of King Philip IV of Spain, and presents several figures, most identifiable from the Spanish court, seeming to have captured a particular moment as if in a snapshot.
Long recognised as one of the most important paintings in Western art history, the work’s complex and enigmatic composition challenges reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted.
Some of the figures look out of the canvas towards the viewer, while others interact among themselves. The five-year-old Infanta Margaret Theresa is surrounded by her entourage of maids of honour, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs and a dog.
Just behind them, Velázquez portrays himself working at a large canvas, looking outwards, beyond the pictorial space to where a viewer of the painting would stand.
In the background, there is also a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen, placed outside the picture space, again, in a position similar to that of the viewer – though some scholars have speculated their image is a reflection from the painting Velázquez is shown working on.
Because of these complexities, ‘Las Meninas’ has been one of the most widely-analysed works in Western painting. Described as Velázquez’s “supreme achievement”, it is a thrilling, yet highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve.
View the original video here.
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