The secret discovered of Las meninas

The secret discovered of Las meninas
The secret discovered of Las meninas

It is huge: it measures 3.18 meters high by 2.75 meters wide. It has become one of the iconic paintings in Art History. Every year thousands and thousands of people admire him. Hundreds of pages have been written about him. Despite all this, do we know everything about Velázquez’s Las meninas? The book “In Front of the Meninas” (Letra Caniche) by Emilio Cendón from Vigo argues that no.

The work seeks to answer several questions. Why does Velázquez paint himself? Is he inside and outside the painting? Where do we see the scene from? Where are the kings located? Where do the people looking out of the painting look? paint?

To start looking for answers, it is necessary to remember what the painting shows if we do not have an image of the painting in front of us or perfectly visualized in our mind.

The painting places us in a room with high ceilings, on a real scale. In the foreground, we observe the Infanta Margarita (1651-1673), the illuminated girl in white, daughter of Philip IV and Mariana of Austria. In fact, the couple of kings appears reflected in the mirror on the back wall.

Margarita is accompanied by eight people, among whom are her court mistresses: Isabel de Velasco (on her right), Agustina de Sarmiento (on the left and who gives her a clay jug) and the dwarf Mari Bárbola. The painter himself, Diego Velázquez, also appears with the cross of Santiago on his chest and the color palette in front of a huge canvas.

Both the Infanta Margarita and a large part of the sitters seem to look outside the painting. Are they looking at us in a projection of the future or at whom in that present of 1656?

“Many investigations have been published – indicates Cendón, who has a degree in Fine Arts and has given workshops at the MARCO in Vigo – but none reaches a conclusion as to why Velázquez paints ‘Las meninas’. My starting point is an analysis in which I see that the point of view proposed by Velázquez is to the left of the painting. “No one forces you to see a painting front and center.”

In the book, he emphasizes that “no matter where you look at her, the Infanta always looks to the left.” He adds in the conversation with FARO that “Velázquez uses perspective in a unique way in the history of art. We have the painting in front of us but it is difficult for us to understand what he has done” unless we interpret the perspective correctly.

From his point of view, Velázquez places King Philip IV on the left of the painting and it is from there that we should stand to admire him.

Regarding the purpose of the oil painting, remember that “the painting was in a room that only the king had access to. It was a place where only he entered. It was the end of the life of the king and Velázquez. The king had remarried, there were problems in the empire. The conclusion is that ‘Las meninas’ is a place of retreat for the king, to be in the closest environment to him. Velázquez offers the monarch a tool to think about his place in the world as king, as father, husband and leader of the palace.”

He clarifies that the Infanta Margarita is not the objective of the portrait because the painter himself is behind the girl’s back and the mirror reflects outside the painting.

Regarding Velázquez’s pose or height, Cendón also debunks a theory. “According to the composition, Velázquez is the tallest character in the entire painting. Hence, that judgment that is made about him as arrogant, but if you forget about that and see it from the place where the king saw it, everything changes because that hierarchy – including the fact that Infanta Margarita seems to have more relevance than the monarch – it’s not important. The painting was made for a viewer who is not us, but Philip IV.”

At the foot of the tile

Another notable conclusion is that the painting is not hanging as it should in the Prado Museum. “Your eyes are at the level of the dog. If you stand in the king’s place (on the left of the painting) you do not see yourself reflected in the painting. If Felipe IV went to the Prado tomorrow, he would not be able to reflect himself in the mirror. As it is a masterpiece, they raised it above the ground to be admired. “This is not a criticism,” she says, proposing that it be lowered and placed at the foot of the tile while suggesting in which position to look at it to go further.

“The intention of the book is to open a path in which artists and historians work together, each one contributing. It could discover new mysteries and answer questions as well as create new ones so that art is something alive and not reducing it to something pretty-ugly, small-big,” concludes the artist and researcher.

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