Las Meninas, Diego Velazquez, 1656
Diego Velazquez (1599-1660) was the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age. His most celebrated work of art, Las Meninas, (Spanish for The Maids of Honour) is one of the world's most analyzed paintings. The unusual and enigmatic composition of the painting challenges the concepts of reality and illusion, creating a relationship between the figures on the canvas and the viewer. Las Meninas depicts a large room in the palace of King Philip IV of Spain, capturing several figures from the Spanish court as if in a snapshot. Some of the figures interact amongst themselves while others look out towards the viewer. The Infanta Margarita is in the foreground, surrounded by two dwarves, a bodyguard, maids of honour, her chaperone and a dog. Behind Margarita and her entourage is Velazquez, in his only known self-portrait, working on a large canvas and looking outward to where someone viewing the painting would be. In the background, a mirror hangs and the upper bodies of the King and Queen are reflected. The mirror places the King and Queen both inside and outside of the painting. Velazquez worked for many years with the royal family and was palace chamberlain, when he painted Las Meninas he had been with them for thirty-three years, perhaps explaining how he was allowed to paint them in the inner sanctum of the palace even though King Philip was notoriously private. Even the artwork hanging on the walls of the room are depicted accurately according to several historical documents. Velazquez was likely influenced by Jan Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait (1434), which hung in Philip's palace. The focal point of Las Meninas is widely debated, although perhaps Velazquez meant to have the pictures central focus shift. Velazquez uses light to bring to his focal points both volume and definition. The vanishing point is the man in the doorway, in particular his elbow. Las Meninas has an elusive quality, as Velazquez plays with representation and its conventions. It proved to be a very influential painting, described by Baroque painter Luca Giordano as the "theology of painting". Francisco Goya etched a print in 1778 of the painting and Pablo Picasso did a series of 58 different interpretations of Las Meninas and the figures from it in an exhaustive study.