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Las Meninas (The Ladies-in-Waiting)

Updated: Jun 4

I am currently in Madrid and just visited the Prado Museum, where I had the chance to see Las Meninas in person. All I have to say is wow. Seeing this painting in real life completely changed my perspective. Initially, I thought the painting was small, but I was so wrong. I saw it from a couple different perspectives, and I learned that from far away the painting appears more realistic because from up close some of the brushstrokes are visible. For example, upon closer inspection you can tell that Velazquez’s hand is completely deformed and consists of a few brushstrokes. I think that it is interesting how perspective can change a painting.


Just a side note: Las meninas means the ladies-in-waiting in Spanish.


Las Meninas. Diego Velázquez. 1656 CE. Oil on canvas.

Who is in the painting?

The main focal point of the piece is the young girl in the bottom center. She is King Philip IV's daughter and was 5 years old at the time the painting was made. She is surrounded by a group of attendings, consisting of two ladies-in-waiting (also known as las meninas), two dwarfs, a dog, a bodyguard, and more. The man to the left holding a paintbrush and palette is Velázquez himself. He probably included a self-portrait of himself to show his high status of being a part of the royal family and worthy of being in the same room as them. Arguably the most mysterious aspect of this painting is the mirror in the back, depicting King Philip IV and his wife. It reminds me a lot of the mysterious mirror in the Arnolfini Portrait.


This painting is an enigma:

There are a couple theories regarding the mirror. Some say that it is reflecting what Velázquez is paining. Others think that the king and his wife are standing in the same room and it is reflecting their presence. The rest believe it is a combination of the previous two theories. I personally believe that it is reflecting the presence of the king and his wife. This painting was made for the king's study, so it is situated around the king's gaze, which is why I believe this theory.


There are also conspiracies involving the painting inside of the painting (AKA what Velázquez is painting). One common interpretation is that Velázquez is painting the king and his wife. This would make sense because the king and his wife were seemingly standing in front of Velazquez. However, the canvas seen in the painting is the same size of Las Meninas itself. This suggests that Velázquez is actually painting Las Meninas within Las Meninas. Yes, I know that is confusing, so take a minute to reread that. This is what makes Las Meninas an enigma. There are so many different theories and mysteries surrounding it.


Conclusion

Walking up to Las Meninas in the Prado is an experience I wish I could constantly replay. The painting is spectacular because it looks as if Velázquez just took a polaroid of the scene and displayed it. It is a painted snapshot containing an element of mystery, which is why I love it.



Sources

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1ABHiXQswX_bvLK5zP-oDrmT6MU8uK1A2y5-mbn3or4Q/edit#slide=id.SLIDES_API2134743519_484

https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/art/articles/2019/june/06/the-true-meaning-of-las-meninas-by-velazquez/#:~:text=%E2%80%9COne%20of%20the%20most%20famous,book%2C%2030%2C000%20Years%20of%20Art.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F0A2uCgLx7E

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiTtGENiVOA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0nhUN9do4s4

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Meninas_01.jpg




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