Las Meninas

Velázquez (1656)

Ive always loved this picture, ever since I was shown it by my Spanish teacher circa 1992. On one level, it is a beautiful painting of the domestic life of the Spanish Royal Family in their Alcazar Palace, showing the Princess, with her retinue, including dwarves, an artist, and a couple of dogs. Looked at another way, however, its an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Who is the subject? Where do we look? There is a clue in the bevelled mirror, where we see the King and Queen, but, geometrically, should see our own reflection. What is on the noble painter’s canvas? Us? Or the picture you see before you? If you really have time on your hands, try to trace an aerial map of who is where, including you. Spoiler – it’s not possible. These feints and tricks embody the most revolutionary comment on the act of representation and seeing, “the theology of painting”. Like Cervantes, Velázquez is interested in the nature of reality and dreams, and suggests that art, and life are shadows, that the closer we get to them the more elusive they become. The trick here is that the viewer is invisible, but is otherwise complicit, enticed into a game of mirrors and into the strands of this web, spun centuries ago by an utter master.