Velazquez, Diego Rodrigues De Silva y: Las Meninas, oil on canvas 318 x 276 cm, 1656

Standing in front of Las Meninas, the massive work of Baroque Spanish Court painter Velazquez is a humbling and awe inspiring experience. The reproductions of the painting in books did not prepare me for the luminous quality, the complex composition, and the incredible technical skill.

The setting of the painting is a large room in the Royal Alcazar in Madrid. Its grandure provides an interesting compositional device. In the top third of the painting there is a restricted tonal range which is almost monochromatic. This area contains little sharp detail apart from the edge of Velazquez’s easel which reflects light from a small window on the right hand side.

Not only does this emphasise the vastness of the room, it also directs the viewer’s focus to the bottom third of the painting with its full tonal range and busy detail.  The scarlet highlights direct the viewer’s eye around the central figure, as does the use of triangular forms in the composition.

Not surprisingly Las Meninas has attracted much speculation. Are the King and Queen in the room and the subjects of  Velazquez’s painting, or are they a portrait on the wall? Truely great works of art do contain their own mysteries that invite wondering.

This painting inspired other great artists. Goya used a similar format in his life size painting of Carlos IV and his family (1800). Picasso paid homage to Valesquez in his re interpretation of the the painting, deconstructed in a series of 58 works painted in between 1956 and 1957. Picasso donated the works to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona in 1968. This is the only complete series of works of Picasso that remains together in a public holding, making it very special, and a subject for another time.

See more:Las Meninas, Museo del Prado

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