Las Meninas

Las Meninas

Las Meninas, by Diego Velasquez. 1656

Perhaps the first post-modernist painting, well before the period assigned to that name. Pespective. Multiple perspectives. Meta. About painting. About the act of painting. Velasquez paints Velasquez. This is not a pipe. This is not Velasquez. Are we, the audience, looking at the painter painting us? Or, does our vanity blind us and prevent us from seeing that it is the king and queen of Spain in that mirror, not you? Or eye. Too easy, that one.

Mirrors. Pictures within pictures, plays within plays within plays. Rubens on the wall. Hamlet stages Shakespeare. Velasquez stages Nietzsche. Velasquez stages Barth and Coover and Barthelme and McElroy.

All is vanity as the Infanta Margarita tires of being painted. So tired, they have to bring in her court dwarves to keep her in the picture. Is Velasquez mocking the royal family, mocking their pride? The dawn of the Enlightenment and the precursor of the postmodern.

I think he wanted us to talk about this mystery for centuries, just like Joyce wanted us to talk about Ulysses. Finding something new each time we gaze at it. The structure. The composition. The light. Dig up all of the gossip on the royal family. Entertainment Tonight.

Vermeer tries similar things, as far as structure and meta painting, though he has no connection with royal families.

The Art of Painting, by Jan Vermeer. 1666

Simpler. More intimate. Modest, perhaps. Calm. One could almost say there is a national difference between the two. One could see this as obvious. Stereotypes. Quick generalities that may or may not fit. And because they may or may not fit, by definition they are not accurate. The 17th century. The age of Spinoza, Leibnitz, Galileo and two extraordinary painters, Vermeer and Velasquez. But the Infanta Margarita’s maids of honor provoke the postmodern, launch it before anyone knew. Meta painting. Introspection. Vanity. And mirrors. Who knew that Freud lurked in the wings even then?

— by Douglas Pinson


Copyright ©2009, by Douglas Pinson. All Rights Reserved.


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