Sunday, April 15, 2007

Las Meninas: Some places to visit

It's easy to become obsessed with Velázquez's magnificent painting. Speaking for myself, it first fascinated me on an intellectual level when I was introduced to it via Foucault's intricate discussion of it (here is an abstract) in the opening chapter of The Order of Things). The emotional connection came later: One day I realized that my younger daughter, when she was younger, is (or was) the spitting image of the Infanta Margarita, right down to the rather coy, even impish turn of the head.

For some time now, I've also been using this painting in classes to raise questions of just what happens when a viewer stands in front of a painting: Las Meninas, we come to realize, makes explicit what we tend to forget when we're looking at most paintings, that the painting creates a space into which the viewer enters vicariously. I've even used the painting as a way of trying to articulate the complicated reading and authorial perspectives in Mark Z. Danielewski's Baroque-styled postmodern novel, House of Leaves. That novel has a good bit of textual figure-ground confusions, just as Las Meninas, explicitly extending its space outward to include the viewer, creates more than a little disorientation in the viewer who contemplates it.

See what I mean?

All this is to say that it'd be very easy to keep a blog devoted just to this one painting. Indeed, I contemplated doing just that, once upon a time, but in the end I decided that that would be a wee bit excessive: I already use it enough in my teaching life that it doesn't need to have more room than it does here in my blogospheric life. This entry, which I'll also post a permanent link to over in the Sites of Interest, will eventually serve as both a happy medium and as, I hope, a service to others with an interest in this painting. As I and others run across sites that, to my mind, contribute to our thinking about Las Meninas, I'll add links to them here.


The Museo del Prado's in-depth look isn't as elaborate as one could hope for from the home for this painting, but what is here is just enough to intrigue the person who wants to know more. Its chief virtue is that it identifies all but one of the figures who appear and provides names of those who have offered various interpretations of it.

A more thorough introduction is the Wikipedia entry, with brief discussions of famous interpretations.


"The Making of . . a Camera Obscura Prank: Ordinary Life as Visual Arts in Velázquez's Las Meninas" (pdf file). Argues that the painting documents simultaneously the staging and revelation of a camera obscura prank (a proto-Candid Camera scene, in other words).

"Velázquez: La Kabala y Las Meninas." An(other) extraordinarily-detailed study of Las Meninas' geometry and its possible significance for the painting's meaning. In Spanish.

"Velázquez's Las Meninas". Pays patient, close attention to the painting's geometry (with a nice compare/contrast to Leonardo's The Last Supper) that's blessedly free of the geometric excesses of some articles here (as below).

"Vermeer's Riddle Revealed". Despite the title, an application of grail geometry to Las Meninas.


Domingo Barreras

Camille of 327 Market

Francisco Goya

Las Meninas Information. A virtual-reality exploration of the space of the painting, along with intriguing suggestions as to astrological interpretations of the piece.

Edouard Manet (explanation here)

Pablo Picasso

Fairfield Porter

John Singer Sargent

Joel-Peter Witkin


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