Learn more about Las Meninas
|Diego Velázquez, 1656|
|oil on canvas|
|318 × 276 cm, 125.2 × 108.7 inches|
|Museo del Prado, Madrid|
The picture was inventoried at Palacio Real de Madrid under the title "The family picture". In 1843, Pedro de Madrazo catalogued it for El Museo Del Prado as Las Meninas, following the description of Acisclo Antonio Palomino de Velasco (1655-1726), in his Museo pictórico. Menina ("girl" in Portuguese) came to mean "maid of honour" in the Spanish court.
This painting depicts the Infanta Margarita, the daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and the eldest daughter of his second wife, Mariana of Austria, surrounded by her ladies-in-waiting, her dwarf, and her mastiff, while Velázquez is seen standing at his own easel.This is a composition of enormous representational impact. The Infanta Margarita stands proudly amongst her maids of honour, with a dwarf to the right. Although she is the smallest, she is clearly the central figure; one of her maids is kneeling before her, and the other leaning towards her, so that the standing Infanta, with her broad hooped skirt, becomes the fulcrum of the movement. The dwarf, about the same size as the Infanta, is so ugly that Margarita appears delicate, fragile and precious in comparison.
The point of view of the picture is at least approximately that of the royal couple. The spatial structure and positioning of the figures is such that the group of maids around the Infanta appears to be standing on "our" side, opposite Philip and his wife. Not only is the "performance" for their benefit, but the attention of the painter is also concentrated on them, for he appears to be working on their portrait. Although they can only be seen in the mirror reflection, the king and queen are the actual focus of the painting towards which everything else is directed. As spectators, our position in relation to the painting is uncertain. Are we excluded from the scene, with the ruling couple in our place? In this interpretation, the painting is completely hermetic, a hermeticism further intensified by the fact that the painting in front of Velázquez is completely hidden from our view. Or are we standing beside the royal couple, to the real king's (not the reflected one's) right? This would explain the spectator's not appearing in the mirror at the back, but also opens up the possibility that the spectator is intimate, at least spatially, with royalty. In 17th century Spain, this would have been a provocative suggestion. The fact that three of the figures - Velázquez, the Infanta and the dwarf - appear to be looking directly at the spectator rather than to our left where, presumably, the royal couple is standing, lends weight to this interpretation.
Las Meninas was the picture which Luca Giordano called the "theology of painting," another way of expressing the opinion of Sir Thomas Lawrence, that this work is the philosophy of art, so true is it in rendering the desired effect. The story is told that the king painted the red cross of Santiago on the breast of the painter, as it appears today on the canvas.
The immensely famous 20th Century artist and co-inventor of Cubism, Pablo Picasso, painted a series of interpretations of Las Meninas in 1957, a number of which fill an entire large room of the Picasso Museo in Barcelona, Spain.
The theorist Michel Foucault made an interpretation of this painting in the introduction of his book The Order of Things, primarily focusing on it as exhibiting the first signs of a new episteme in European art, as it attempted to allow the audience of the painting to become the sovereign figure — the true focus of the art of representation is hardly represented: "the necessary disappearance of… the person it resembles and the person in whose eyes it is only a resemblance."
 See also
- This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
 External links
- Velázquez - La Kabala y Las Meninas (Spanish)
<span class="FA" id="no" style="display:none;" />