This is one of Velázquez`s largest paintings and among those in which he made most effort to create a complex and credible composition that would convey a sense of life and reality while enclosing a dense network of meanings. The artist achieved his intentions and Las Meninas became the only work to which the writer on art Antonio Palomino devoted a separate section in his history of Spanish painters of 1724, entitling it In which the most illustrious work by Don Diego Velázquez is described. Since then the painting has never lost its status as a masterpiece. From Palomino we know that it was painted in 1656 in the Cuarto del Príncipe in the Alcázar in Madrid, which is the room seen in the work. He also identifies most of the figures of the court servants grouped around the Infanta Margarita, who is attended by two of the Queen`s meninas or maids-ofhonour: María Agustina Sarmiento and Isabel de Velasco.Order now
In addition to that group, we also see the artist himself working on a large canvas, the dwarves Mari Bárbola and Nicolasito Pertusato, the latter provoking a mastiff, and the lady-in-waiting Marcela de Ulloa next to a guardadamas (attendant), with the chamberlain José Nieto standing in the doorway in the background. Reflected in the mirror are the faces of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria, the Infanta`s parents who are watching the scene taking place. The figures inhabit a space that is modelled not just through the laws of scientific perspective but also through aerial perspective. In the definition of this space the multiplication of the light sources plays an important role.
The painting shows a large room 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, captured, according to some commentators, in a particular moment as if in a snapshot. Some look out of the canvas towards the viewer, while others interact among themselves. The young 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. Velázquez looks outwards, beyond the pictorial space to where a viewer of the painting would stand. In the background there is a mirror that reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. They appear to be placed outside the picture space in a position similar to that of the viewer, although some scholars have speculated that their image is a reflection from the painting Velázquez is shown working on.
Las Meninas has long been recognised as one of the most important paintings in Western art history. The Baroque painter Luca Giordano said that it represents the “theology of painting” and in 1827 the president of the Royal Academy of Arts Sir Thomas Lawrence described the work in a letter to his successor David Wilkie as “the true philosophy of the art”. More recently, it has been described as “Velázquez’s supreme achievement, a highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve, and perhaps the most searching comment ever made on the possibilities of the easel painting”.
- En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Las Meninas. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Las_Meninas.
- Museodelprado.es. (2017). Las Meninas – The Collection – Museo Nacional del Prado. Available at: https://www.museodelprado.es/en/the-collection/art-work/las-meninas/9fdc7800-9ade-48b0-ab8b-edee94ea877f.