10 Famous Paintings You Should Know: 9 Las Meninas By Velasquez

Las Meninas
las minas
Las Meninas 1656

How did this painting change the world of painting?

Well this painting is quite an insane painting and it really, really changed painting and this is why it’s so important.

Usually oil painting would be of a royalty, a king, queen or kaiser or another royal person. Usually it was someone standing on their own isolated wearing very wealthy robes, fur, all the conquers, a gold staff with a big fancy crown.

So this painting is of the royal court but it’s very different, it’s a slice of life, it is a moment in time, it is a behind-the-scenes snapshot of the princess Margaret.

Who painted Las Meninas?

Diego Velasquez was the painter of this masterpiece.

Self-portrait: Velasquez

Interesting things to notice in Las Meninas.

You will notice a few interesting things in this painting: you’ve got princess Margaret, you’ve got a dog you’ve got a dwarf and yes it is a dwarf. It was common to keep dwarves in court for entertainment purposes.

She’s got her ladies-in-waiting dressing her, you’ve got the actual painter Velázquez on the left hand side standing with his paint brushes, and you’ve got a portal into who painted the Las Meninas. On the left hand side standing with his paint brushes.

You’ve got somebody standing in the door frame looking in and you’ve got a portrait of the king and queen hanging in the background.

Why is this painting so famous?

Two theories on why this painting is so famous.

The Gaze Theory

Now this is probably why this painting is so famous. When you study art philosophy you are going to get in touch with mirror theory and the gaze.

Now these are two very important theories that played a massive role in analysing art and understanding art through history.

This painting is seen as one of the most epic paintings because of it how it applies the gaze theory. Now, to gaze is to simply look at someone and what is interesting here is that we’ve got the princess making eye contact with us, we have Velázquez looking straight at us, we have someone looking straight in from the door and they are looking straight at us.

Everything is really putting a lot of focus on the viewer, which makes for an amazing experience because of this massive size of this painting (it’s real life size, it’s incredibly huge).

When you walk into the room where this painting is hanging, it always feels like you’ve just stepped into that scene and everybody is looking at you.

You as the viewer is starting to feel uncomfortable and aware of the space of the intrusion like you’re not supposed to be in the inner court of Spain, witnessing something you’re not supposed to be seeing. 

Just look at how the gaze actually bounces around with in this painting. If you wish to read more on the gaze theory, follow this link: Gaze Theory

The mirror theory

In this painting we can also seethe mirror theory.

When your child is around the age of two they start observing themselves in a mirror, animals also do this, you must have seen funny videos on YouTube where dogs start barking at their own reflection and cats start jumping and attacking their own reflection or running straight into the mirror to attack their opponent which is actually themselves.

Well, humans don’t do this, when we look at the mirror we realise that it is us, even at that young age of two, and they say this is the time where an infant develops more/their first independence.

This is why we get the terrible two’s where children are now very much aware of their own presence and that they are separate from their mum. They are no longer bound to their mom’s tummy they are now an individual with their own will, wants, and needs and this is why a lot of toddlers at this age start throwing tantrums.

They are literally tearing their identity away from their mom, establishing their own identity and their own ego.

So what is interesting in this painting is that we can see/interpret whether it’s either a mirror where maybe the viewer is the king in the queen looking in on the scene, or maybe it’s a painting of the King and the queen.

But we very much have this mirror theory, the presence of ego and the presence of self. It is this detail and psychology that made this painting famous and keeps it famous now.

Picasso‘s version of Las Meninas.

If someone want to copy Las Meninas, entirely in good faith, for example, upon reaching a certain point and if that one was me, I would say “what if you put them a little more to the right or left?” I’ll try to do it my way, forgetting about Velázquez. The test would surely bring me to modify or change the light because of having changed the position of a character. So, little by little, that would be a detestable Meninas for a traditional painter, but would be my Meninas.

Pablo Picasso

Picasso painted a series of 58 Las Meninas paintings in 1957.

Pablo Picasso, Las Meninas, 1957
Pablo Picasso, Las Meninas, 1957

Read about all 10 the paintings in this series: Mona Lisa, The Last Supper, Starry Night, The Scream, Guernica, The Kiss, The Girls with the Pearl Earring, The Birth of Venus and then the last one in the series, The Sistine chapel.

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  1. Pingback: 10 Famous Paintings You Should Know: No 8, The Birth of Venus by Botticelli. - Lillian Gray - Art School

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