Diego Velasquez Las Meninas (the Maids of Honor)
Diego Velasquez 1599-1560
Diego Velasquez was a Spanish painter who was the main artist in the court of King Philip IV. Diego Velasquez was an artist of the Baroque period (the 17th century). He was born Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez in Seville, Spain. Diego showed artistic talent as a child, and was sent by his parents to study with master painter Francisco Herrera.
Diego Velasquez painted historical and cultural scenes plus portraits of the Spanish royal family, the European nobility, and commoners. His masterpiece, “Las Meninas” / “Maids of Honor” was completed in 1656, four years before his death. Las Meninas is ten feet high. In the painting, Diego Velazquez is at work on a painting. “Maids of Honor” is a piece that captures a brief moment in time long before the advent of the camera.
In the mirror on the back wall of the studio shows the current King and Queen, who are sitting for their official portrait. Their eldest daughter, the Princess Margarita, is escorted by two maids of honor: one of them is serving her food and drink while the other curtsies to the King and Queen. There are two dwarfs who were probably present for entertainment purposes. The theme is the protected world of royalty and in particular royal children. By placing himself in the scene Diego Velasquez believes he should be in such privileged company.
Diego Velázquez spent much of his professional career as a portrait painter in the service of the Spanish court. He knew the king and his family well. He was a talented portraitist, and King Philip IV likely wanted Velázquez to spin the Royal families’ image positively to the general public by someone they knew well and respected.
Another possible interpretation that, the faded portrait of the king and queen hanging that is on the back wall, is Velázquez deftly foreshadowing the future decline of the Spanish empire. Another interpretation is that the portrait is a mirror, and that the painting is from the sole perspective of the King and Queen; that is why only their reflection can be seen in the mirror.
Diego Velasquez’s brilliant recreation of people is exaggerated of his brushwork together with his use of colour and multi-layered levels of reality and social status. This combination makes him one of the greatest painters of all time. The layers of reality and status in “Maids of Honor” are: 1) The canvas, 2) the dwarfs, 3) the princess and her maids of honor ,4) the artist Diego Velázquez , 5) The King and Queen, 6) The mirror 7) the anonymous man in the doorway.
Diego’s Velázquez's paintings were the model for Édouard Manet, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, and Francis Bacon. In fact, some of them have deliberately recreated his work as a tribute to him.
“Les Meninas” is in the Museo Del Prado, in Madrid.