Diego Velázquez, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), 1656, oil on canvas, 10’5” x 9’, Museo del Prado, Madrid Diego Velázquez, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), 1656, oil on canvas, 10’5” x 9’, Museo del Prado, Madrid, via Wikimedia Commons

The Maids of Honor: A Visit to the Studio

This huge portrait of Princess Margarita, daughter of Philip IV, King of Spain, is a virtuoso performance in paint.  With his flickering brushwork, Diego Velázquez created a scene filled with glowing light and brilliant textures.

The painting is as complex as it is beautiful because it also includes portraits of King Philip IV and Queen Mariana reflected in a mirror on the back wall, portraits of the Princess’ courtly coterie (including her favorite dwarfs and mastiff), and a self-portrait of the artist standing in front a large canvas  – perhaps Las Meninas, the painting we are viewing.

There are many interpretations of this work of art, all of which are as complicated as the painting itself.  Certainly, before anything else, it is a portrait of the princess; however, one scholar suggested that the image also functions as an artistic self-portrait.  The red cross on the artist’s coat is the emblem of the Order of Santiago.  Velázquez added it years after the painting was completed when the King finally allowed him to join the religious order.  Artists normally were not knighted because they worked with their hands.  In this painting, Velázquez engages his intellect as he pauses before the canvas.  Perhaps this painting was part of his campaign to join the Order of Santiago.

Detail, Diego Velázquez, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), 1656, oil on canvas, 10’5” x 9’, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Wikimedia Commons. Detail, Diego Velázquez, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), 1656, oil on canvas, 10’5” x 9’, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Wikimedia Commons. Detail, Diego Velázquez, The Maids of Honor (Las Meninas), 1656, oil on canvas, 10’5” x 9’, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Wikimedia Commons.

Inspiration

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Van_Eyck_-_Arnolfini_Portrait.jpg Jan Van Eyck, Arnolfini Double Portrait, 1434, oil on panel, 32” x 23½”, National Gallery, London, Wikimedia Commons.

This painting was in the royal collection of Spain when Diego Velázquez was the court painter for Philip IV. It is by a southern Netherlandish artist and it probably shows a portrait of an Italian merchant and his wife. The full-length portrait with a mirror on the back wall was an inspiration for Las Meninas.

Influence

Francisco de Goya, Portrait of Charles IV and his Family, 1800, oil on canvas, 110” x 132”, Museo del Prado, Madrid, Wikimedia Commons.

Francisco de Goya was the court painter for the Spanish monarchy over a century after Velázquez had the job. This painting clearly is based on Las Meninas. Goya appears behind a large canvas on the left and the Queen of Spain holds the same pose as does the Princess Margarita in Velázquez’s painting. It is well known that Goya was a Liberal and therefore it is possible that he intentionally made the Queen look childlike and all the other members of the Royal Family appear vacant and dim-witted as they look around the room in different directions.

Other paintings by Diego Velázquez

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One Comment

  1. Liz

    That’s so interesting that the artist went back and added the cross. And YEARS later? I wonder how often that happened.

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