Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece (2023)

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Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece

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Wikimedia Commons


Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece (1)

By Kelly Grovier16. October 2020

(Video) Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?

A small clay pot in Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas could hold the key to uncovering the mysterious 17th-century painting, argues Kelly Grovier.


Sometimes a vase is just a vase. Sometimes it is a portal to another level of perception. In Diego Velázquez's 17th-century masterpiece, Las Meninas, a small, unassuming earthenware jar at the center of the canvas, a rebound of shadows and mirrors that never fails to fascinate, transforms the work from a casual snapshot of court life into a dazzling treatise about the illusory and transcendent nature of existence. It erases this slightly forgotten clay object from the heart of Spanish Golden Age painting, and its mysterious pulse, which has captivated viewers' attention for more than three and a half centuries since Velázquez created the painting in 1656, has withered to a whisper. and stops. 🇧🇷

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To understand how the seemingly fortuitous presence of popular Latin American ceramics, when polished with Velázquez's virtuoso brush, becomes a visionary lens through which we see the world in new ways, we must first recall the cultural context from which this Painting emerged and what it intends to portray. On a significant level, the work offers a self-portrait of the 57-year-old artist four years before his death in 1600, after having spent more than three decades as court painter to King Philip IV of Spain. On the left side of the painting, Velázquez is holding a palette and staring at us, full-length, as if we were the very subject he is capturing on a vast canvas looming before him: a painting within a painting. whose imaginary surface we cannot see.

Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece (2)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

(Video) Why is this painting so captivating? - James Earle and Christina Bozsik

The dimly lit hall of Madrid's Royal Palace, where Velázquez hovers between brushstrokes, is filled with the seemingly unchoreographed bustle of a motley crew of court actors. In the central foreground of the picture, to Velásquez's left, we see the five-year-old Infanta Margarita Teresa, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, flanked by two servants, the eponymous "ladies of society". "... as close as we are." Behind the two dwarfs, the Infanta's attendant, clad in mourning, calmly confesses to a bodyguard whose mind seems to wander as she speaks.

doors of perception

Through an open door in the background of the painting, a loosely articulated figure, the Queen's chamberlain, leaves the realm of the painting, but not before pausing to look at us, as if anxious that we follow him. What Lies Beyond To the left of this door, a mirror reflects the ghostly faces of the king and queen, whose physical whereabouts in the play's world are unknown. They are, but they are not. It is these last two aspects of the work, the open door through which the Chamberlain incessantly emerges somewhere else beyond the consciousness of the canvas, and the translucent glow of the real faces in the ghostly glass of the mirror, that made the viewer of the painting do this to assume there is more at stake than meets the eye.

The absence of the king and queen (who are simultaneously in the picture but not on the stage) forces us to conclude that this is a philosophical work on the substance of substance and the here, as well as an ephemeral freeze. Structure of busy castle life. The enigma of their reflection ensures that we are not passive spectators, but that we are actively trying to understand where in the world they are. Does the mirror place them where we are, looking in from the outside, the very subjects of a portrait that Velázquez begins or ends at some point? Or does the mirror reveal what is already on the big screen with its back to us: an imaginary reflection from the surface of an imaginary painting depicting figures whose imaginary whereabouts we can only guess at?

a vanishing point

A dizzying retinal puzzle of a painting, Las Meninas plays a tug-of-war with our minds. On the one hand, the perspective lines of the canvas converge in a vanishing point inside the open door, directing our gaze over the work. On the other hand, the reflection of the reflection in the mirror diverts our attention from the painting to contemplate the plausible position of the real specters whose vague faces haunt the work. We are constantly drawn in and out of the painting as the here and now of Velázquez's shadowy chamber becomes a strangely elastic dimension that is both ephemeral and eternal, a realm that is simultaneously palpably real and vaguely imagined.

In her brilliant biography, The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velázquez, writer and art critic Laura Cumming reflects on Las Meninas' remarkable ability to present "such an accurate view of reality" while remaining "such an open-ended mystery." “To know,” he writes, “that this is all done with brushstrokes, that it is only painted fiction, lessens the illusion than the magic. The entire surface of Las Meninas feels alive with our presence.”

(Video) The World's Most Controversial Painting | Las Meninas

Cumming could describe a hallucination or mystical vision rather than a painting.

Cumming's eloquent assessment of painting's incredible power, with its carefully chosen language of "mystery," "illusion," and "enchantment," perfectly captures the almost psychotropic effect that Velasquez's paintings have on us: the trance-like state in which the paint has invaded. attracted generation after generation. Cumming could describe a hallucination or mystical vision rather than a painting.

Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece (4)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps easily overlooked in the bewildering crossfire of optical, psychological, and philosophical perspectives that entangle this seemingly bottomless jigsaw puzzle of a painting, there is one object that may provide a material clue as to the intended effect on our own consciences of Velázquez's mind-bending masterpiece. : a living vibration of the supernatural. the red at the heart of the work, vibrating in the simple form of a small clay jar. Among the objects in the painting, this nondescript jug offered to the young Infanta (and us) by a suppliant servant on a silver platter would have been recognized by contemporaries as embodying mind- and mood-altering qualities. 🇧🇷

To describe the appearance of this simple pottery as "otherworldly" is more than poetic exaggeration. known as abuffalo, was one of many coveted crafts brought to the Old World by Spanish explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to art historian Byron Ellsworth Hamann, who has forensically traced the probable origin of many of the items decorating the interior of Velásquez's work (including this silver tray), the vase's characteristic luster and bright red hue indicate that it was a product of Guadalajara. Mexico. A secret blend of local spices baked into the clay when the vase was made ensured that the liquid inside had a delicate fragrance.

LosbuffaloIt was known to perform another, more surprising function besides imparting an addictive, fragrant taste to the water. In Spanish nobility of the 17th century, it became something of a fashion for girls and young women to nibble on the rims of these porous clay vessels and slowly devour them whole. A chemical result of consuming the strange clay was a dramatic lightening of the skin to a ghostly, almost ethereal appearance. The need to change skin tone dates back to ancient times and has always been driven by a variety of cultural motivations. Since the reign of Queen Elizabeth, whose very pale complexion has become synonymous with her icon, artificially white skin has established itself as a benchmark for beauty in Europe. In warmer climates, it was believed that lighter skin was evidence of wealth and that a person's livelihood did not depend on working in sunlight, which darkened the skin.

(Video) Velázquez, Las Meninas
Las Meninas by Velázquez: A detail that decodes a masterpiece (5)

(Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Interestingly consumebuffaloClay for altering pigmentation was less dangerous than some contemporary alternatives for lightening the skin, such as smearing the face with Venetian cerusa (a topical paste made from lead, vinegar, and water), leading to blood poisoning, hair loss, and death. This does not mean that takingbuffaloTon had his own unpredictable reactions, including dangerous red blood cell depletion, muscle paralysis, and liver destruction. It also triggered hallucinations. According to the well-known autobiography of a contemporary painter and mystic, Estefanía de la Encarnación, published in Madrid in 1631, the addiction to snacksbucarosit not only resulted in a lifeless death from pallor, but also increased spiritual awareness. Though he regrets it took him "a whole year" to "break this addiction," the narcotic effects triggered visions that allowed him to "see God more clearly."

If we map the physiological and psychotropic effects ofbuffaloBased on the eternal puzzle of Las Meninas, the painting takes on a new and perhaps even more immersive look. At the epicenter of the screen's enigmatic action is the altered and shifting consciousness of the Infanta, whose fingers thebuffalo(Did he just take a bite?), he suddenly expands into the malt mentality. If we look closely, we can see that Velázquez's brush is pointing directly at a pigment stain of the same deep, vibrant red in his palette that makes up thebuffaloIt was magical in being. Eerily pale like a genie conjured from a bottle, the Infanta also appears to be floating off the ground, an effect delicately achieved by the subtle shadow the artist subliminally inserts beneath the parachute-like dome of her billowing crinoline dress. Even the Infanta's parents, whose images float straight to the Infanta's lipsbuffalo, they appear more like holographic ghosts projected from another dimension than mere reflections in a mirror.

Suddenly we see Las Meninas for what it is: not just a snapshot, but a moving meditation on the transience of the material world and the inevitable evaporation of the self. For almost four decades in the service of the court, Velásquez watched the gradual decline of Felipe IV's reign. The world slipped away. the brittlebuffaloA dissolvable trophy of colonial exploits and the decline of imperial power, with the power to reveal empires beyond, it is the perfect symbol of this diminuendo and abandonment of the current mirage. Thatbuffaloartfully anchors the stunned scene while at the same time being directly involved in her stunned state. Simultaneously physical, psychological and spiritual in their symbolic implications, thebuffaloit is a keyhole through which the deeper meaning of Velázquez's masterpiece can be glimpsed and unlocked.

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What makes Las Meninas a masterpiece? ›

“One of the most famous and controversial artworks of all time, Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour) is regarded as a dialogue between artist and viewer, with its double mirror imagery and sketchy brushwork that brings every figure and object in the room to life," explains our book, 30,000 Years of Art.

What is the idea of Las Meninas? ›

Interpretation. The elusiveness of Las Meninas, according to Dawson Carr, "suggests that art, and life, are an illusion". The relationship between illusion and reality were central concerns in Spanish culture during the 17th century, figuring largely in Don Quixote, the best-known work of Spanish Baroque literature.

What is the principle applied in Las Meninas by Velasquez? ›

Velázquez uses linear perspective to create depth and space in Las Meninas. The black frames on the right wall, and the ceiling hooks, guide the viewer's eye towards the vanishing point. The mirror, reflecting the King and Queen, suggests a continuation of space beyond the painting.

What are the visual elements present on a good masterpiece? ›

The traditional way of looking at art, namely the visual arts, suggests that there are five basic elements of an artwork – line, shape, color, texture and space.

What is the meaning of the painting Las Meninas? ›

The most famous of Velázquez's career of portraiture is Las Meninas. Spanish royal family is its subject. The painting is a puzzle for the mind by way of the artist's play with perspective. Velázquez cleverly fools around with the observer's point of view, featuring himself as the artist within his own painting.

What is the tone of Las Meninas artwork? ›

There is a feeling of warmth throughout the painting, with mostly red, orange, and yellow tones used (mirrored by the palette in Velázquez's hand, below). The actual colors used by Velázquez were lead white, azurite, vermilion, red lake, ochres, carbon black.

What are the lines used in Las Meninas? ›

Actual Lines

The edge of the wooden stretcher bar at the left of Las Meninas is an actual line, as are the picture frames in the background, and the linear decorative elements on the some of the figure's dresses.

Which of the following are among the six elements of design mentioned in this text? ›

What Are The 6 Elements of Design?
  • Lines. The first and most basic element of design is the line. ...
  • Shapes. The second element of design is shape, when a two-dimensional line encloses an area. ...
  • Colors. Color is another powerful element of design. ...
  • Typography. ...
  • Texture. ...
  • Space.
1 Dec 2020

What is the unity of Las Meninas? ›

Las Meninas (Diego Velazquez, c. 1656) creates unity through the proximity of figures in this group portrait. Most of figures shown are in the same room.

Why is the Las Meninas important? ›

Las Meninas has been and will always be one of the most widely analysed works due to the way its complex composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and the uncertain relationship it creates between the viewer and the figures depicted.

What is the focal point of the painting Las Meninas? ›

What is the focal point in Las Meninas? There are three local points in Las Meninas; the self-portrait of Velazquez, the reflected images of Teresa, and the princess Margarita Teresa.

What are some ways Velázquez creates focal point S and lead your eye around the composition? ›

Composition was a strategic tool for Velazquez in motivating the viewer to experience his work as it was intended. To this end, he often used diagonal structures, complex focal points, and separate planes to manipulate the eye toward what was most important, or to spur a deeper understanding of the picture.

Who can be seen reflected in the mirror in Velasquez painting Las Meninas? ›

The mirror in the background of the Las Meninas (1656) painting by Diego Velázquez is believed to reflect the figures of King Philip IV and Queen Mariana of Austria. They are believed to be sitting for a portrait painted by Diego Velázquez himself, who is also in the composition, standing to the left.

What is the purpose of a masterpiece? ›

In modern use, a masterpiece is a creation in any area of the arts that has been given much critical praise, especially one that is considered the greatest work of a person's career or to a work of outstanding creativity, skill, profundity, or workmanship.

What are the characteristics of a masterpiece? ›

Works of art and science that achieve masterpiece status share several characteristics: they convey a special type of originality that captures the imagination, they stand the test of time, and they change the way artists or scientists think about their field.

What is the most important element in the painting? ›

Color (or hue) is at the heart of every painting. It is arguably the most important element because it sets the tone for how viewers feel about the work.

What is reflected in the mirror of Las Meninas? ›

The reflection in the mirror indicates that the artist is busy painting the king and queen, while the subject of “Las Meninas” is clearly the Infanta, or the artist himself. There are many interpretations of this painting, but one common theme is that it reflects the role of art and the artist.

What is the term for the materials from which an artwork is made? ›

Arts media is the material and tools used by an artist, composer or designer to create a work of art, for example, "pen and ink" where the pen is the tool and the ink is the material.

What is the elements and principles of Las Meninas? ›

Visual elements, and principles of design which are clearly demonstrated in Velázquez Las Menias include visual texture, diminishing size and vertical placement, overlapping, space and depth, and organic shapes.

What type of lines are those created by visually connecting two or more areas together? ›

Implied lines are those created by visually connecting two or more areas together.

What does Implied mean in art? ›

In art, implied lines aren't drawn, but they are created with colors, shadows, shapes, textures, and spaces between objects. Their purpose is to guide the viewer's eyes within the artwork and emphasize certain elements.

How do you explain expressive lines? ›

Lines can be added to an artwork using a range of different media such as pencil, charcoal, oil paint and watercolour. These different media will give the lines a different quality, they may be thicker or thinner, bold or smudged.

Why do you think it is important to put emphasis on an artwork? ›

Why is using emphasis in art important? Using emphasis in art is important because it communicates the artist's message to the viewer. While artists often wish for their viewers to see their artwork as a whole, they may also consider a specific element to be the most important aspect of the piece.

What are the 7 elements of design explain the importance of each? ›

The elements of design are the fundamental aspects of any visual design which include shape, color, space, form, line, value, and texture. Graphic designers use the elements of design to create an image that can convey a certain mood, draw the eye in a certain direction, or evoke a number of feelings.

Is the underlying message that the writer or artist wants to convey? ›

The theme is the underlying message that the writer or artist wants to convey. Themes can feature in poetry, a short story, a novel, or even a work of art. It can be something as simple as love, or as something more complex, such as human versus nature.

Is Focal Point and emphasis the same? ›

Emphasis is the principle of art that helps the audience put the story of a painting together in their own minds. Any object or area of emphasis is called a focal point. The focal point is meant to be the part of an artwork to which the viewer's eyes are first attracted. Artworks can have multiple focal points.

What is the main figure in the artwork? ›

The term subjects in art refers to the main idea that is represented in the artwork. The subject in art is basically the essence of the piece. To determine subject matter in a particular piece of art, ask yourself: What is actually depicted in this artwork?

What principle of design that draws the attention of the eye to a part of the document? ›

Emphasis is the part of the design that catches the viewer's attention. Usually the artist will make one area stand out by contrasting it with other areas. The area could be different in size, color, texture, shape, etc. Movement is the path the viewer's eye takes through the work of art, often to focal areas.

How the eyes moves through the composition Leading the attention of the viewer? ›

Flow is about movement and direction, and leading the eye from one part of a composition to another in the direction you want it to move. You create flow through a combination of visual weight and visual direction. Elements of greater visual weight (focal points) pull the eye and become resting places.

What was the setting of the famous painting Las Meninas? ›

As part of his research, Palomino spoke to Velázquez's colleagues (the artist himself died in 1660), as well as four of the nine people pictured in the painting. Las Meninas is set in Velázquez's studio space at the Royal Alcázar of Madrid, the fortress-turned-palace where the king and his family lived.

Is Las Meninas a masterpiece? ›

In Diego Velázquez's 17th-Century masterpiece Las Meninas, a ricochet of shadows and mirrors that never ceases to intrigue, a small and underappreciated clay jug at the centre of the canvas transforms the work from a disorderly snapshot of courtly life into an arresting treatise on the illusory and ultimately ...

Why is Las Meninas so captivating? ›

Las Meninas has been one of the most widely analyzed works in western paintings, giving rise to enigmatic relationships between admirers and the figure portrayed. The canvas creates a sense 3d picture, a physical space seen from the viewer's perspective. It has led to divergent interpretations of the entire work.

Why do you think Picasso painted Las Meninas in his own style so many times? ›

By painting so many variations, he sought to understand the key elements of a work he so admired while also giving his Meninas a life of their own.

What type of painting has a hidden meaning usually political or moral? ›

Allegory in art is when the subject of the artwork, or the various elements that form the composition, is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning such as life, death, love, virtue, justice etc.

Which painting has an impressive detail in the mirror behind the main subjects? ›

In Las Meninas there is no ideal point of view, but we are implicated in the painting. As noted above we take on the role of the King and Queen of Spain. The mirror on the back wall with its reflected images of the king and queen asserts the artist's control over the illusion.

What kind of line are in Las Meninas? ›

Implied lines are those created by visually connecting two or more areas together. The space between the Infanta Margarita – the blonde central figure in the composition – and the 'meninas', or maids of honor, to the left and right of her, are implied lines. Both set up a diagonal relationship that implies movement.

What is Picasso's most famous painting and why is it so important to him? ›


"Guernica" is not only Picasso's best-known work, it's one of the most famous (and Google-searched) paintings in the world. Its depiction of an aerial bombing raid on the Basque town of Guernica in April 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, was an eerie visual prelude to the coming atrocities of World War II.

What is the definition of representational as it relates to art? ›

Representational art describes artworks – particularly paintings and sculptures – that are clearly derived from real object sources, and therefore are by definition representing something with strong visual references to the real world. Most, but not all, abstract art is based on imagery from the real world.

Which mode of analysis relates to the study of signs and symbols in a work of art? ›

Semiotics offers another way of analyzing images, be they found in artwork or another type of visual culture, like advertising. Semiotics is the study of signs.


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