- Part of Scala’s innovative 4-fold series
- Examines the painting in detail, unravelling its many levels of meaning
Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour) is more than a portrait, or even a portrait of a portraitist at work. Velázquez was always concerned about his status at court; he thus includes the king and the queen in this painting, both reflected in a mirror – and present as witnesses to the painter in creative flow. The figures in the picture seem caught between one position and the next, with the snapshot effect that the Impressionists and Degas were to seek 200 years later. Other painters were to try to equal or better the extraordinary illusion of space in the picture. But Velázquez’s skill in achieving this was already apparent in earlier works. The painting is the consummation of baroque spatial action or illusionism, and is an example of the power of art to communicate what is real and to imagine what by nature is unreal. This superb 4-fold guide examines in detail the work’s historical context and unravels the many levels of meaning contained within it.
Gabriele Finaldi is Deputy Director of The Prado, Madrid.