Las Meninas, by Diego de Velázquez
Oil on canvas
381 x 276 cm
Prado Museum, Madrid
A key work, not only of Diego Velázquez, but also of painting itself, Las Meninas retains its enigmatic aura despite the countless studies which have been dedicated to it. In the most widely accepted interpretation, the principal purpose of this work is to defend the painter's craft as a noble and intellectual art.
An initial question when confronted this seemingly spontaneous scene might be: what is it that Velázquez is painting on such an enormous canvas? The traditional interpretation has it that
King Philip IV and his wife —both reflected in the mirror on the rear wall and supposedly located in the spectator's position— are the objects of the painter's attention. Yet this seems optically improbable.
Other studies suggest the presence of a large mirror (or several, to avoid the inversion of the image) in front of the painter, which would lead us to surmise that it is the very creation of the picture of Las Meninas
itself that Velázquez is painting.