A Painting of Mystery
Like a French window erecting from the floor, the Las Meninas presents a footage of the family of Filippo ?. Standing in front of it which they can almost walk in, the viewers see the princess posing herself and the maids respectfully and patiently serving her. To make it weirder, soon, they feel the figures are looking outwards at them. Since its accomplishment, the tremendous painting is studied for its delicate composition and techniques. This painting is a disturbing masterpiece for its contents, sense of interactivity, and mystery of arrangement.
The painting stuns the viewers at first glance because of its composition, for it was like an endless middle of finding the gazer. In the magnificent hall, the princess was disproportionately small, yet she was the “calmest and steadiest” one amongst all, which made her indifferent and distant excessively. Noble and arrogant as she was, the princess was not aware of the fact that she was not the dominator of the picture. She and her servants were stared by a free man outside the door, beam spotlighting him. Was he the gazer or the one attracted by movement? The answer was negative. Going back to the gloomy hall, the mirror revealed the invisible gazer behind the picture: the royal couple. Standing still outside the picture, they watched the whole picture as the viewers did. Interestingly, on the middle left, a painter—Velazquez himself—was confidently observing his models, ignoring the uproar around him as if claiming that he was the king of his painting. In this painting, everyone was gazed yet was also the gazer—including the viewers. This is the advancement of interaction.
How it works
The sense of interaction is typical of Velazquez’s composition, allowing the viewers to involve and start to questioning the meaning of existence. To achieve such an effect, one of the most impressive technique is actually “gaze”, which is described by Professor Svetlana Alpers as figures looking from inside to outside at the viewers’ eyes (Alpers, 1983, p31). This is extremely unsettling, for this feeling admits that visitors are watched by them. The uneasiness grows even stronger when some of them gazing at us dedicatedly as if spotting something unusual, another picture La lance being a typical example. Moreover, the painting is far beyond a static portrait—it is dynamic. The painter was considering his next stroke; the men was taking next step; the meninas were turning to the king and queen. “Expression of movement,” Frederic Chordain commented, “is coherent with its dynamic manifestation.” This slice of time is remained forever and even created paranoia—considering the vividness, artists may imagine their next move behind us.
Aside from these, it is also a painting of mystery. After the analysis, questions may arise: what they were staring at? How it was painted? They are looking straight out—’there just isn’t enough on their side of things to hold anybody’s attention”, said Leo Steinberg. The painter painted a painting that himself was contained. Paradox or mirror image? It confused a large percentage of artist, and philosophers as well. Professor Luis Ramon-Lara built a three-dimension model and proposed the idea that a large mirror allowed Velázquez to drew in a distance and this explains the scenes “contrary to expectation”. Still, there are problems of the motivation: why did the painter laboriously create the mystery? Firstly, it ambitiously announced that he was the ruler of his composition. Further, he was an honest revealer, “like crystal above the world” and “persisting in his own way regardless of the results”. The 16th century Spain was a rigid, conservative, and repressive country with its detailed and forms. The young infanta was like an arrogant doll. With the reflection, Velazquez hid the source of majesty, merely left the tension on the paper tactfully.
From the contrast of figures and the hall, to the elaborately engineered image, the Las Meninas is an outstanding composition, admittedly. Whenever I see it, however, I recall the observing king, standing outside the picture like me, staring at the puppet-like delicate princess, ever after the painting accomplished.