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Velázquez, Las Meninas

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Las Meninas, c. 1656, oil on canvas, 125 1/4 x 108 5/8 in. (318 x 276 cm), (Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid). Created by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker.

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  • leaf blue style avatar for user abfoeva
    Is this technique of painting a painting within a painting unique only to Velazquez ?
    (13 votes)
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    • leaf blue style avatar for user Ellen B Cutler
      It is a remarkable painting in that it really is a first, as you say, of "a painting of a painting within a painting." The conceptual profundity of making these multiple relationships--the painter gazing at the royal couple, the painter painting the princess and her maids; the painter documenting himself at this work, the royal couple looking both at the painter and at their daughter, and so on--really puts Velazquez in a new realm. This multiplicity will be acknowledged, emulated and challenged by artists for the next several hundred years. You see it in Goya's "Family of Charles IV" and even in Picasso's homage to this painting in the 1950s.
      (24 votes)
  • leaf red style avatar for user ilfrankie
    i'm not sure if i missed it in the video but does it ever explain who the man in the stairway is?
    (11 votes)
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  • leaf green style avatar for user John
    Wasn't the red cross on Velasquez's chest added at a later date?
    (8 votes)
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  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user Victoria Chen
    What exactly is a governess?
    I assume it is only for rich people.
    (3 votes)
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    • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
      A governess is a woman who is being paid to take care (and teach!) a child in the child's house. You are right in assuming that only rich people can afford this. Have you ever seen the movies Mary Poppins or the Sound of Music? In those movies Mary & Maria are a (very special!) governess :-)
      (13 votes)
  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user kylestoneking
    less complicated explination of the painting inside painting please.
    (3 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user m33687
    What influence do we see from Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding? How do we know that the artist was directly influenced by that work?
    (5 votes)
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    • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user Jin Park
      Both of the artists included themselves inside the paintings and cleverly used mirrors in order to reflect 'the other side of the painting' that we can't directly see. Also, both pieces depict royal, wealthy people that are engaged in some kind of important event.
      (1 vote)
  • leafers tree style avatar for user D
    at who is the girl in the white dress?
    (3 votes)
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    • blobby green style avatar for user Moemillintons
      She is princess Margarita. It seems to be the most important figure in the picture. She is very attractive in the white dress. All attention is focused on her. Velasquez knows her well, so that he is able to give more details about her look and her dress.
      (3 votes)
  • winston default style avatar for user Mykah
    who is the dude in the hallway back there? (they zoom in on him at ) and what do they mean "a dwarf" at ?
    (1 vote)
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    • aqualine tree style avatar for user David Alexander
      the dwarf is the child-sized adult woman in the foreground. In more than one royal house, keeping a dwarf around was seen as a novelty. It objectified people based on their physical characteristics. Hopefully, social and political leaders could not get away with that nowadays.
      (5 votes)
  • blobby green style avatar for user lilia.mpestana
    What a wonderful painting! However, could it be as simple as Velázquez looking into a mirrored wall? The king and queen could be standing near or behind the canvas, out of his view, yet showing in the mirror, angled to reflect them. Too easy?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user tamerhelmysalama
    The viewer IS the king and queen. Here's how I came to that conclusion:
    - As per historians, the painting within the painting is too large to be a portrait. It is likely "Les Meninas".
    - What's strange is that if Velazquez is painting Les Meninas, why is he standing far from his masterpiece? One logical explanation is that Velazquez took a step back to see the 'perception' of a view as he was trying to capture it in his painting.
    - That perception could very well be the Mirror's reflection of the royal couple (as they appear in the mirror). He looks as if leaning slightly backwards to see how the 'mirror' would capture the Royal couple.
    - Since Velazquez is looking at the viewer, it's likely that the Royal couple is indeed the viewer.
    (2 votes)
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Video transcript

[music playing] We're in the Prado in Madrid, and we're looking at the great canvas by Velázquez, "Las Meninas." Did you mean "great" in terms of size? Because it is a very large painting. Actually, it's a painting with a very large painting inside it . . . That's the same size as the painting it is. In fact, some art historians have suggested that the painting that Velázquez - - because notice there is a self-portrait of Velázquez in the act of painting - is in fact painting the painting that we're looking at. Did you follow that? I did. It is very complicated. So what we're seeing here is, in the center, the princess attended by the maidens of honor, a dwarf, her governess, and some other attendants. And on the back wall a mirror, which is the sort of puzzle in a way of the painting. We know it's a mirror because unlike the canvases on the back wall, this is a much more reflective surface. We can see the beveled edge of the glass, and of course in that frame, we see a reflection of the King and Queen of Spain, Philip IV and his wife. And some art historians have suggested that we must be them looking into the mirror and seeing our own reflection. Others have suggested that in fact, the mirror is reflecting the image that is being depicted on the canvas by Velázquez, and then even other art historians have suggested, yes, the mirror is reflecting what's on the canvas, but the king and queen are still standing before us. Which is why the princess is looking out at us, and even the dog is, in a sense, taking notice. And why there is just sort of general attention being very much focused on where we are in front of the painting. Perhaps we're in the space of the king and queen, and this painting was meant for the study of the king, who would have been the person looking at it. So it's very much meant for his gaze. That issue of looking, of gaze, is I think for me really one of the central keys to this painting. It seems to me to be a conversation of glances, a conversation of people reacting to each other's glances, of looking itself, a kind of essay on the way in which we see. To me it's more of paying attention. I think that's exactly right, and that would make sense. This is the king and queen of Spain, one of the most powerful countries on the face of the Earth at this moment. Yeah, you would have to pay attention to them if they walked in the room. You would ignore them at your own peril. Exactly. And we can see it when we see the artist, Velázquez, who is first painter to the king looking out to the royal couple. He would have had, of course, the best job that an artist could have in Spain at this moment. I'm interested, though, in the sort of sense of naturalism, the sense of spontaneity, the sense of informality, which is so unexpected in a royal portrait. That's the amazing thing about this painting, I think, that makes it so hard to say what it is and makes it so compelling is that it's not a "portrait." Because we know what portraits look like. They're on the walls all around us. And they're very formal portraits of the royal family kind of posing and looking powerful, and that's not what this is. So there is a kind of informality, like a genre painting, like we're looking at something like a day in the life of the painter's studio, but that's not what it is, either, because it is also a portrait. So it sort of straddles this weird line of being both those things. It's like an intimate portrait. It's a portrait that gives you a kind of access to, in a sense, the real moment, the real life within this palace. In fact, some art historians have suggested that the painting is in part a way for the artist to promote himself and to show his importance and in a sense his value to the court. The idea that as a painter, he's not just a craftsman, but an intellectual. So here's the irony. If Velázquez is in a sense trying to support this notion of the artist as intellectual, and not the craftsman, not the man who works with his hands, the painting is a bravura example of painting. We can never get away from the fact that this is fantastic painting; because although there is a tremendous sense of naturalism amongst these figures, the painting is also nothing but a series of strokes of paint. And I think that's most vividly witnessed in the sleeves of La Infanta, of her attendants, or especially that lightning bolt of stroke of white that goes down the artist's own sleeve and actually leads our eye to the palette. And here's the sort of most wonderful conundrum. The palette is a representation in space of the raw paint which is, of course, the very stuff that the artist is using to create the depiction of the thing that it is. What I find so interesting, though, also, is that there is a time when the reverse happens. Look at the way that his hand holds the paintbrush. That is raw paint that almost dissolves, almost refuses to be fingers on a hand. So that he's in a sense playing on that edge. I can make very loose strokes of the brush feel clarified and come together and feel like cloth in motion, right? Reflective light, taffeta, what have you. Or I can actually dissolve forms that you expect and allow the thing to become just the act of painting as well. Just the paint. I think what adds to this is the fact that we don't see what he's painting. There's a kind of mystery about the alchemy of painting, about how you take medium and solvent and pigment and turn it into reality. I would say that it's not just reality he's after. I think he's after a kind of condensed reality. I think he's after a kind of heightened experience of looking, a kind of heightened experience of the intimacy of this family, of this moment. And I think that he is doing something that is actually quite poetic and quite philosophical.