Velasquez Las Meninas
Painted in1656, Spain

Discussion Topics:
- Narrative construction
- Spatial organization
- Conceptualizing a painting to engage in dialogue with all future viewers
- Points of Views: Leo Steinberg, Svetlana Alpers, Michel Foucault

Historical Context
- Velasquez worked in the Spanish Court. King Philip IV and Mariana
- The painting represents known figures - the Infanta Margarita & entourage (daughter of Phillip IV and Queen Mariana)
- Dwarfs in Spanish court functioned to provide a contrast - a certain misrule.
- The room is part of the royal house in Madrid
- Painting is also understood as a visual statement of the social rank desired by the painter
- Painters struggled to get social status: in the painting, the artist and king are represented together.

-Narrative prerequisite of the times: to tell a story familiar to all
(usually biblical topics)
-This painting's narrative lies somewhere else then in telling a story
- What is the event? It is up to us to determine
- We are implicated since we see ourselves be seen,
- If the painting were to speak:
1) I see you seeing me
2) I in you see myself seen
3) I see you seeing yourself being seen
- The gaze: signals from within the picture that the viewer outside is seen and in turn acknowledges the state of being seen

Structure of the Image
- A disproportionate area of the canvas remains unaccounted for (Steinberg - p51)
- Instead of just being an image in front of us, the painting pulls us in, implicates us
- Since we see ourselves be seen
- The painting seems to extend beyond itself to include the viewer
- Not only intended for the viewer's eyes but because of the scale, also his body.

- Standing in front of a painting of people looking at us
- There is a painting in progress supposedly of someone to our left
- In the background there is a mirror that reflects either/both what is in front of the painting and the painting in progress
- Through the framed mirror and the attentive pose of the child and entourage, the presence of the queen and king are signaled.

Perspective & The Looking
- Three Centers: a) the Infanta, b) the painter, c) the left of us
(everyone looks to the left)
- From our point, we see the real subject of the painting
(mirror reflection and the painting of it) (St.p52)
- Las Meninas is not conventional - It concerns itself with the role vision plays in human self-definition.
- Uncanny nuances of illumination differentiates every component in it.
- Compared to camera obscura - anticipated the photographic

Two Conflicting Modes of Representations
- Velasquez embraces two modes - each of which constitutes the relationship between the viewer and the picturing of the world differently.

1) The artist positions himself on the viewer's side of the picture surface and looks through the frame of the world - which he then reconstructs on the surface of the picture by means of geometric conventions (Al. p37)

2) The second mode is not a window - but rather a surface onto which an image of the world casts itself - just like light focussed through the lens forms a picture on the retina of the eye.

In place of an artist who frames the world to picture it, the world produces its own image without a necessary frame.

The artist of the first kind (Durer's engraving) claims that "I see the world",
while that of the second shows rather that the world is "being seen".

The looker within the picture - not only looks out but is also the artist.

The painting intends to be both a view of the world and a framed representation of what it means to look at the world.

Full circle: The world seen is before us because we are what commanded its presence.

One assumes the priority of a viewer before the picture who is the measure of the world.

and the other assumes that the world is prior to any human presence and is thus essentially immeasurable.

- Las Meninas is a picture about the role of framing, frames in the form of pictures, mirror, doors and windows.
- The king, queen, princess are known by being framed.
- Pictorial representation, an aesthetic order also engages a social order.
- V.'s understanding of the complex conditions of representation - both aesthetic and social - did not undermine his trust in it.
- Velasquez sees himself as part of the court he sees through.