Everything You Should Know About Las Meninas

Title: Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour)

Author: Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (Seville, Spain, 6 June 1599 – Madrid, Spain, 6 August 1960)

Date: 1656

Genre: Group portrait

Movement: Baroque

Technique: Oil painting

Support: Canvas

Dimension: 320,5 cm x 281,5 cm (height x width)

Location: Museo del Prado (Madrid, Spain)

Today, we look into Las Meninas has kept its mystery for centuries since Diego Velázquez’s last brush stroke on the canvas in 1656, we are in Spain which is home to many essential artworks and architecture.

Feel the warm breeze of the Mediterranean lands! Vamos!

Las Meninas or The Maids of Honour is known as the masterpiece of the royal painter of the Spanish Court, Diego Velazquez. (Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain)

We are heading to Madrid as the other people flock here. We are entering the Reina Sofia Museum, and later we are reaching room number Room 012.

Once we notice the painting, we are strolling to Las Meninas and the curiosity about its story and purpose bring out.

The painting has seen as Velázquez masterpiece due to the brilliant methods that he applied and innovations that he added to it, which displays his thirty years of experience as the court painter of the Spanish Golden Age.

Why is the Las Meninas so famous?

At first glance, it may seem like a regular painting of the Baroque era, and you can be curious about why Las Meninas is one of the most analyzed artworks in the history of art. But you will quickly see something different and odd in the painting, the painter and the canvas in front of him! The painter is Velázquez himself, that is we sure of, but the folks next to him, the canvas, and the details in the room led to many speculations. And there are only a handful of paintings that have various interpretations as Las Meninas. It may owe its reputation to this ambiguity; who knows? After all, we, the art lovers, love mystery.

It seems to art critics the dialogue between Velazquez and the viewers leads Las Meninas to come to real life.

The other comment is that it could be depicting its creation. We can also read this is an appreciation from the artist to his audience. (Look at The Order of Things by Michel Foucault)

A deeper look at the Las Meninas

The room is the workshop of Velázquez in the Palace and the group of people we see next to the painter, Velázquez, are the individuals who lived in King Philip IV’s Palace. This work depicts life in the Spanish Royal Court, and we are witnessing a flowing moment here.

Before discussing details of the painting, when people examine the picture in the history of art, they always start from left to right, so we do.

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.

First local point – Diego Velázquez

Why did Velazquez paint himself in Las Meninas?

As we have seen the first local point of Diego Velazquez devoted approximately 1/3 of the painting to himself. The fact that the painter included himself in the painting shows that people’s views on art and artists were changing in society. Another said it was finding a place as a branch. Velázquez also wants to tell us his value given by the Royal court in this painting.

The canvas he stands in front of is the same size as the Las Meninas. It gives the interpretation that the artist placed himself in the painting while making this painting. It’s quite a paradox, but it might be right.

The Royal Mirror in Las Meninas

The two people reflected in the blurry mirror, they are no one but King Felipe IV (Philip in English) and Queen Mariana. It is a mirror because we know from its reflective surface appearance. It also differs from other paintings on the wall with the white depth effect given to the edges. There is also a different interpretation that he was making a portrait of the king and queen who were standing in front of him. Besides princess bridesmaid standing next to Infanta might bow to the king and queen.

The reflection of King Felip IV and Queen Mariana of Austria through the mirror can be seen center-left part of the portrait

So the mirror could be reflecting the king and queen posing for their portrait, or is it revealing the canvas? But there is a well-known fact that Velázquez never painted the royal portrait implied here.

Another question about the painting starts here, what if  Velázquez looking at us, not at the queen and king? Until this painting, the viewer looking at it through the artist’s eyes, but suddenly things are changing, and the artist sees us.

Besides, you might be wondering why the two most influential people in the country are given the place as the smallest and farthest figures in the painting; this is exactly where the discussions begin. When Las Meninas was painted at the end of Philip’s reign, the Spanish Empire was in a period of decline and having suffered defeat in the thirty years war. A gigantic, remarkable portrait of him would have provoked an adverse impact.

What do mirrors symbolize in paintings?

The figure that appears in a mirror can be more revealing than its actual appearance. Another word of saying, using the mirror symbolizes the idea that there is a more profound truth that could lie.

Twinning the image in the space of the mirrors is an application that we often encounter in Flemish painting. The real virtual is retransmitted in a small area. One of the best-known examples of featuring the mirror as a symbol is  Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck. The people reflected by the mirror are also watching themselves. As a comment, knowing yourself may be related to understanding yourself.

Princess Margarita Teresa is surrounded by the maids.

In the center is the child princess in a fluffy dress who refuses a glass of water from a handmaid. She is Infanta Margarita Teresa, who is the king’s only legitimate child. Spain’s bright, healthy, and joyful future has come out of the war for 30 years and gradually loses power. That’s why the role of the princess in this picture is huge. If you have noticed, she is illuminated by the light from a window. Thus, Infanta is a representation of Spain’s hope for the future. You can be curious about how we can know if there is a window, but the workshop we are currently looking at is one of the rooms where the royal family lives. That makes it easier for us to know some physical details that we can’t see in the picture.

For spreading a minor technical detail here, we see the free brush strokes when we look at the flower figures on her dress. These traces are seen as the footsteps of one the art movement that will be the impressionist in the future.

The Meninas are the young women beside her. María Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor (on the left)  and Doña Isabel de Velasco (on the right). They are well-educated from noble families and look after and play with Margarita.

A review made by artist Peter van Toth

Who is the man in the doorway in Las Meninas?

José Nieto, the chamberlain, was standing in the doorway, and his movement was interrupted as if he were caught in a photoshoot. The escape point of this painting is just below the chamberlain’s elbow. Our painter showed us the depth of approximately 20 meters using perspective and contrast of light and shadow. Shortly, Las Meninas is a spectacular perspective model.

The man on the door is the chamberlain José Nieto Velázquez.

If we look at paintings above the chamberlain, even though they are in a dark environment, it can be seen that these paintings are copies of Rubens from lighting in the computer environment.

We see a male and female figure whispering in the dark behind. One of them is palace guards; the other one is known to be the queen’s nature. (Marcela de Ulloa)

Why are there dwarfs in Las Meninas?

Lastly, in front of the window, a dwarf teases a dog. Also, a second dwarf stands next to them. In this century, dwarves appear in royal palaces quite frequently. They entertain nobles living in the Palace.  Velázquez has many dwarf portraits to criticize the lousy intervention to them and try to make them visible. The dog is often seen in the Renaissance and later periods. The symbolic meaning that the dog carries is loyalty in the history of art.

The dwarf on the right kicks the dog, and the dog’s reaction can be read from its face, which feels so real.

Why did Picasso paint Las Meninas?

Pablo Picasso’s one of the sketches of his versions on Las Meninas.

In 1957, Picasso started an extended series of variations on Las Meninas 1656 of Diego Velazquez. He attempted to understand the critical elements of an artwork he so admired while also giving his Meninas a life of their own by painting so many variations. The series is a confrontation with one of the essential works in the history of Spanish painting and a commentary on contemporary events in Spain, observed by Picasso from his exile in France.

Pablo Picasso’s review of the Las Meninas. (Museu Picasso, Barcelona, Spain)

Thus conclude our brief analysis of this art masterpiece of mysteries. There is much more to say about Las Meninas, and new research on it is released constantly; however, its secrets will remain hidden to us probably forever. Maybe that is the charm of it, right?..

Last but not least, if you are intrigued by art, we will have a blast seeing you here. Hope every art-related thing will find you, see you in our following review. ????????✌