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Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

Diego Velazquez is one of the most creative and realistic painters ever after Caravaggio, whom Edouard Manet described as the painter of painters. The light, shadow, composition, adaptation, and vision in his works are extremely impressive. While talking about Diego Velazquez’s life, we will also take a look at the details of his Las Meninas.



A Short Biography of Diego Velazquez

Velazquez Diego de Velazquez (1599 – 1660) is among the many artists who visited Rome in the mid-seventeenth century. Like many others, attracted by ancient ruins and ruins rather than contemporary Roman art or architecture, he visited Rome twice.

Although these visits were made in 1630 – 1650 and 1651, he lived in Rome in a short time.


Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

A Short Biography of Diego Velazquez  Diego |  Velazquez and Las Meninas


Even if indirectly, Caravaggio‘s solid and almost sculptural style, whose works and reputation were reaching Spain at that time, was influenced by his realistic style.

In his foreword to Don Quixote (1605), Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616) cited the “plain and simple” metaphor used in illustration for the style of writing he was trying to reach, and Velâzquez’s contemporary, Francisco de Zurbarân(1598-1664), started with the same method.

Zurbarân’s paintings of praying monks mostly for South American and Spanish monasteries uniquely combine Counter-Reformation Mysticism with ordinary everyday life.

But the development style of Velazquez’s art was very different in the later years. Good thing it was different! This difference in Velazquez’s art enabled us to see a masterpiece that reached us.

Diego Velazquez entered the service of the young king Philip IV (1621-1665) of Spain, who liked him very much in 1623, and who established a monopoly on his works for the rest of his life.


Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

King Philip IV of Spain by Diego Velazquez, Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien | Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas


The royal collection brought Velazquez’s eyes to the splendor of Venetian art, especially Tiziano, whose great “poesie” series adorns the walls of the palace in Madrid.

These paintings strengthened Velâzquez’s natural preference for painting and the difference between Raphael and those from the linear tradition.

Increasingly, it would go beyond Tiziano’s broken and flowing brush strokes, and the very thin layer of paint he sometimes applied would make even the texture of the canvas noticeable.



Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

His painting known as Las Meninas and whose real name is “Family of King Philip IV of Spain” is Diego Velazquez’s highest achievement, a very conscious and calculated proof of what the painting can achieve, and perhaps the most in-depth comment on the possibilities of canvas painting.


Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

Las Meninas, 1656 by Diego Velazquez


Even before the end of the seventeenth century, an Italian artist called this “the divine power of painting”; indeed, it can be said that in essence, it is a painting about painting.

The main figures of the painting are, whose faces are reflected in the mirror hanging on the wall beyond, King Philip IV and his daughter are Infanta Margarita, five years old.

She has two bridesmaids who gave her name to the painting.

Behind a large sleepy dog stand two palace gnomes, a bridesmaid and a male attendant chatting, and a man from the queen’s entourage is visible through the doorway on the other side of the room.

Diego Velazquez himself is standing next to the huge canvas, with his palette and brush in hand.

All figures, including the painter who rose to the upper ranks in the palace, are members of the palace.



First Time in History

Until then, there is no premise of such a painting, depicted on a canvas of the size reserved for official portraits and historical subjects, recording a seemingly insignificant moment of courtly everyday life.

But behind the painting that looks like the capture of a momentary event, there are many meanings in layers.

Las Meninas represents a life lived before our eyes above all else. In this way, it is proof of the unique power of the painter who catches the time and stops the clock forever at a certain moment.

The random presence of the figures and the neutral, indifferent attitude of the artist towards them. It caused the effect of the painting to be compared to a snapshot.

Indeed, such a convincing illusion of reality could only be created with a great and disguised artifact.

In the same way, the completely unbiased method in which the grotesque ugliness of the female dwarf is recorded makes us believe in the unique beauty of the Infanta Margarita and her companions.

The naturalness of these figures is emphasized by the dim reflections in the mirror and the dim pictures on the wall.


Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas

Princess Infanta Margarita, Las Meninas


Velâzquez’s paint application is extremely free, and when you look closely at Las Meninas, there is not a single point where the figures turn into pigment embossments and hit marks.

The long-handled brushes he used allowed him to stay away from the canvas and review the total effect.

This effect is created in a closed space illuminated by natural light from the window on the right wall, from the door, and above all from the area in front of the painting area, that is, the area where the king and queen are imaginatively standing.


Figure Details in the Las Meninas Painting  | Diego Velazquez and Las Meninas


These three sources of light prevent too bright and exaggerated shadows.

Moreover, the rectangular picture area provides a frame where the figures are accidentally brought together, not composed.

What unites them is not with each other, but with the viewer looking from the position occupied by the king and queen, whose reflections appear in the mirror.

In this way, the audience becomes a part of the whole.

In the same years, Bernini’s inclusion of people praying in the Santa Maria Della Vittoria Chapel in Rome in a much different work of art draws viewers into the painting.



Craftsman Diego Velazquez is now becoming an artist!

The second important theme of Las Meninas was painting as a liberal art and the status of the artist.

While painting the painting, this second issue did not come out of Velâzquez’s mind at all. For, just then, he was seeking to be accepted into one of the military knighthood sects that would elevate him to the rank of nobility.

The ancient status of these sects did not accept handicrafts, along with those of Maghreb and Jewish origins, and therefore the question of whether the painting was a liberal art or merely a mechanical art became vital.

The issue has been hotly debated in Spain for a while. Liberalism status brought practical advantages such as exemption from taxes and military service.

At that time, there were many supporting the painters’ claim, and Las Meninas can be interpreted as the artist’s contribution to this negotiation.

For example, the two paintings hanging on the wall on the other side of the room are copies of the works of Rubens, who were given the title of nobility, showing the participation of divine power in art.

In addition, Diego Velazquez showed himself as a court official wearing the hallmark of the office with the keys hanging on his waist.

Indeed, two years later, Spain was accepted as a member of St. James, one of the most powerful of the nobility sects, and the cross of this order were later depicted on the chest by the king’s order.


Self-Portrait of Diego Velazquez | Portrait of a Man | The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA.



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