Criticism Of Diego Velàzquez's Las Meninas, Sebastiàn de Morra, and Baltasar Carlos and a Dwarf

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Diego Velàzquez was called the “noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country.” He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. “His men and women seem to breathe,” it has been said; “his horses are full of action and his dogs of life.” Because of Velàzquez’ great skill in merging color, light, space, rhythm of line, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as “the painter’s painter,” as demonstrated in the paintings Las Meninas, Sebastiàn de Morra, and Baltasar Carlos and a Dwarf.

Las Meninas is a pictorial summary and a commentary on the essential mystery of the visual world, as well
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The interlocking of these luminous areas is the more vivid as the middle distance is cut off by the shadows which spread across the floor. The depth of the chamber is stressed by the alternation of window jambs and picture frames on the right-hand wall, the stretcher of the large canvas on the left foreground, and the perspective sequence of the empty lamp hooks on the ceiling, which mark as central the spot in the rear wall where the King and the Queen are seen reflected in the mirror. In no other painting has Velàzquez rendered space in so architectural a manner as in this, the only work in which he has depicted a ceiling. Neither is there any other composition of his that is so vividly keyed to the space lying out of the picture frame.

Recent studies of Las Meninas, inspired by the ideas of Michel Foucault, have paid considerable attention to the seemingly novel relationship between the scene on the canvas and the spectator. These ideas tacitly assume that the picture was meant to be seen by the public-at-large, as if it were hanging in an important museum, as it is today. (They also exaggerate the novelty of the way in which the spectator is involved in the picture.) However, the original placement indicates that this is not the case. In 1666, the year after the death of Philip IV, Las Meninas was inventoried in a room…