The author of the painting Las Meninas (1656), Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) worked well at the court of Philip IV, thus at the centre of the centralised power structure of one of the initial nation-states of Early Modern European countries. Las Meninas has been argued - both in Velázquez time and in ours - to be his masterpiece.
My purpose in this article is to claim for an interpretation of this painting and its shaping by an exploration of electricity relations alternatively than by perspectival things to consider. My interest in today's essay will be to analyse Las Meninas within the perspective of power relationships, in order to provide an choice reading to the books based simply on the complex aspects of the painting. A lot has been written regarding the great unclearness that the painting Las Meninas seals, but, there's a question that people must recognize in existence of the aesthetic intricacy of the painting, what indeed performed Velázquez paint? I am not seeking to provide the last response to this question in this essay. However, I believe by analysing Las Meninas within the perspective of power relationships, I can contribute to the scholarship or grant on Velázquez and provide an approach that can also donate to the answer of this question.
Las Meninas (fig. 1) (Spanish for The Maids of Honour) can be an engine oil on canvas painting with 318 cm - 276 cm. The environment is a big room and it is definitely unclear if the interior symbolized in the painting is real or imaginary. F. J. Sánchez Cantón identified the room by the paintings in it as the main chamber of a flat in the Alcázar of Madrid that had been occupied by Prince Baltazar Carlos before its assignment to Velázquez. However, F. Iñiguez Almech was incapable, when analysing the seventeenth-century ideas of Alcázar, to recognize any room that could correspond to the one in the painting, being possible that Velázquez did not depict any real room.
Fig. 1. - Diego Velázquez, Las Meninas, 1656, Museu Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Available from: Museu Nacional del Prado Galería On-Line (reached 29 March 2010).
The painting presents a composition sent out in well organised spatial structure that provides to the depicted room a feeling of realism, proximity and depth, being the structure concentric, with the Infanta Margarita María de Austria as its focal point. The depth of the painting is accentuated by the frames on the wall on the right, by the canvas on the departed and by both bare chandeliers on the ceiling. In addition, the painting combines discreet colors, providing harmony to the painting (white, grey and black of the attires with details in red, beige of the canvas, and again tones of dark-colored and greyish in the non-illuminated parts of the area).
On the right of the room, you have an oblique view of the wall structure with apertures which seem to be windows that let light into the room. On the departed, the view of the area is minimize by a huge canvas seen from the back. The painter himself, Diego Velázquez, is portrayed in front of this canvas with a paintbrush on his side, who appears to have just stopped working on the canvas for a moment in order to gaze out his models. Velázquez was fifty-seven years old when he painted Las Meninas and depicted himself in it, but without wrinkles, white hair, or any other sign that may indicate his actual age. The canvas Velázquez is focusing on is not noticeable to the viewer. Pretty much to the centre of the canvas stands just a little girl recognized as the Infanta of Spain, Doña Margarita María de Austria, who also gazes out in the manner of a portrait, and around who "the other numbers gravitate. . . like planets of an intricate, subtly ordered system, and reflect her light. " She is ornamented on both attributes by two young women attendants (the meninas of the title), being the main one on the still left (Doña María Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor) kneeling at the feet of the Infanta and offering her a búcaro in a holder, while the other on the right (Doña Isabel de Velasco) inclines somewhat to the Infanta and transforms her glance outwards the canvas. Towards the right of this group, in the area of the canvas, stand two dwarves of distorted appearance, also judge attendants. The woman known as María Barbola gazes outwards, as the midget who steps on the dog is Nicolasico Pertusato. On a far more distant plan is Doña Marcela de Ulloa, woman of honour, who changes her check out address a guy (escort for girls of the court), who stands beside her and appears outwards. Some distance behind them is the rear wall of the room, which has a door where stands Don José Nieto Velázquez, Aposentador of the Queen, also gazing outwards. Left of José Nieto, the King Philip IV and the Queen María Ana de Austria are mirrored in a reflection. Some of the statistics in the painting present little issue of identification, specifically Velázquez and the Infanta; others are less clear. This recognition of the results in the painting is based on Velázquez earliest biographer, Antonio Palomino, who called the results in Las Meninas on the basis of the known society of the courtroom in Booklet III of his Museu Pictórico y Escala Óptica, that was first printed in 1724. Palomino also recognizes the two paintings in the top part of the back wall with the then current royal holdings: Minerva Punishing Arachne and Apollo's Triumph over Marsyas, both actually by Peter Paul Rubens.
The Infanta occupies the centre of the visual focus, alongside the King and Queen's representation on the mirror and the painter. The superior 50 percent of the painting is occupied with lamps and spots of light that enter trough the openings on the right wall; there are shadows within the back superior part of the wall. The arena is extracted from an angle that closes itself in the right with an starting in the wall structure. In the departed, in another diagonal plan, the painting that is being coated by Velázquez leaves the statistics in second plan and slices obliquely the space. In the back, the reflection and the entranceway make allusion to unknown spaces, which alongside the spatial construction of the portrayed room open up the painting to the exterior and pulls the viewers to inside of the structure. As Madlyn Millner Kahr points out, "the reflection in the painting contributes its own special make of magic. In Las Meninas it directs the observer's focus on events taking place "outside the picture" (the existence of the royal few), which brings the observer within the picture area. "
On her article "Velázquez and Las Meninas, " Kahr divides "the cast of individuals" with a "wide selection of age ranges and physical types" into different groups. Among these communities is your dog, the midget and the female dwarf. According to Kahr, these three people form an organization apart scheduled to "their position in space and their compositional unity. " The central group, as Kahr argues, stands behind them, being constituted by the Infanta and both meninas. The painter, Doña Marcela de Ulloa and the guardadamas forms another group; and the previous group is composed by the Aposentador of the Queen position in the stairs and by King Philip IV and Queen María Ana shown on the reflection. Thus, Kahr divides the characters in groups of three. This section provides unity, coherence and composition to the painting, and by inserting the band of the Infanta and the two meninas as the central one, Kahr's group section concurs with Palomino's concern that the painting is a family portrait of the Infanta. The light that enters the room by the right side wall apertures mainly illuminates the Infanta, Doña Maria Agustina Sarmiento and partly the other menina, that are highlighted with regards to the darkness in it, reinforcing the conception that Las Meninas is a family portrait of the Infanta of Spain. Carl Justi also described Las Meninas as a portrait of the Infanta Margarita as the centre of a recurrent landscape of the palace life.
Joel Snyder agrees that considering the painting as the portrait of the Infanta Margarita, as Palomino and Carl Justi do, is a motion in the correct direction, "but it fails to explain the occurrence of all other characters in it that compete for our attention. " Jonathan Dark brown states that the subject of the painting is no one in particular, but that the painting is a case for the nobility of Velázquez's art work. However, Snyder highlights:
To claim that Las Meninas is a demo of the nobility of painting and of its proper devote the liberal arts, as Jonathan Brown does, is to locate the interest of the painting in the conditions of its origination and in the means used to produce the demonstration. This is surely interesting and, if right, revealing; but, again, it generally does not bring us to conditions with the main topic of the painting - with what the painting is tout ensemble.
Firstly, the tout outfit of the painting may be explored individually (taking into consideration the power relations between each body in the painting), to be able to then identify the main topic of the painting.
In approaching this problem, one should concur that you can identify the occurrence of the centralised electric power in the painting Las Meninas. The power in this painting may be identified in a number of aspects. There may be in the painting two distinct social groupings: the working course and the one which enjoys the labour of those who work. On the one hand, we've the painter, the maids, the lady of honour, the escort for women of the courtroom, the Aposentador of the Queen, and the dwarfs displayed; while, on the other hands, we've the aristocracy displayed in the Infanta that occupies the centre of the painting and King Philip IV and Queen María Ana de Austria reflected on the reflection.
When one questions why Velázquez depicted himself as well as all the participants of the royal home, the answer may be that he wanted to signify that he also belonged to this illustrious circle. Sira Dambe state governments that "in Golden Years Spain, the artwork of painting, still relegated to the rank of craft, hadn't yet been accorded similar status with the bigger arts, such as music or poetry. " Therefore, this painting may be observed as "Velázquez's proclamation of. . . vitality and status as a originator. " The ecclesiastic power is also present in the mix of the Santiago's Order in the chest of the painter, that was not originally painted by Velázquez, being colored after the artists' loss of life by the King's demand. When analysing the Fable of Arachne and Las Meninas, Jonathan Dark brown states, "[Velázquez's] promise for the nobility of his skill are firmly inlayed in these multi-layered works, " and in Las Meninas "the gentleman painter, stands confidently at the easel, basking in the glory of the monarch's person. And on his breasts, the radiant red mix of Santiago grades the artist as a nobleman. "
In addition, one can also identify the presence of the artistical ability of the painter over the rest of the figures due to the dominium of the artistic language, but at the same time, the artistic must obey to a superior power, and in cases like this, the kingship. This declaration locates support on the royal few pictured in the reflection that accordingly symbolize the royal vitality. On her behalf article "Picturing Vitality: Representation and Las Meninas, " Amy M. Schmitter affirms:
The King's representation is a drive of electricity, a manifestation of royal electricity that embodies, exhibits, and stretches it. It is a representation that works, that represents by presenting, exhibiting, or exposing titles and requirements, by figuring them in painting, by being an indicator, by taking to observation, and by playing in public. It thus constitutes its subject matter, the royal electric power and the royal office, by representing it.
One can concur that the depiction of the King Philip IV and the Queen María Ana de Austria on the mirror and of the Infanta Margarita as main concentration of the painting signifies straight in the painting the royal electric power - it presents those that should be appeared with reverence and submission. Furthermore, with the glances one receives and results in the painting, the represented royal electricity gazes with control and vigilance over everyone else.
Regarding the power relations between the remaining figures of the painting, one can dispute that the meninas, the guardadamas and the girl of honour, by their own cultural condition are subordinates of the kingship. The two dwarfs are also condemned to the royal vitality and have as their function to entertain the royal home. Your dog that has been stepped by the dwarf on the right is condemned to a straight lower position (a submissive pet). In such a perspective of power relations, the presence of José Nieto Velázquez becomes enigmatic. Despite being the Aposentador of the Queen and therefore ruled by the royal electricity, he's portrayed in account on the stairs of the back door, relatively indicating an indecision of staying under the gaze of the royal power or leaving. Out of this analysis, one can agree that all the characters of the painting are entangled in the webs of vitality.
Although the delimitations of electric power are well defined in the painting, representing the historical, politics and economical conditions of seventeenth-century Spain, yet another way of looking at this concern is through the indirect allusions also present in the painting, such as the dwarf, positioned in perfect diagonal positioning with the painter. The two associate by contrast: the painter as the originator and admirer of what is beautiful, and the dwarf as symbol of deformity. In common, there is the actual fact that both are symbolized images of social groups placed away from power. One should, nevertheless, consider this opposition from another perspective. From the contrast itself between the actual painter and the dwarf represent, one can obtain an exchange of parts by acknowledging that the arts symbolize both the sublime as well as the grotesque. Therefore, there is certainly in this aesthetical inscription a subversion of the institutionalised principles of power.
The vitality of kingship is also central in Michel Foucault's section on Diego Velázquez's Las Meninas, being this the opening chapter of his book The Order of Things. Relating to Foucault the function of the reflection reflection of the King and the Queen is to bring to the painting what's exterior to it. Within the section Las Meninas, Foucault features the theme of the painting to the external space and provides the Infanta and her maids (internal space) the function of engaging the Ruler and Queen that are in front of the representation (outside space) as Vélazquez's models.
Foucault's critical evaluation derives from the observation angle of the Infanta, the Ruler and Queen in the reflection and exactly how their gazes specify the centre of the picture. The mirror in the trunk leads to the conclusion, as Foucault says, that it's about a question of what looks and what is searched. From these encounters of gazes and perceptions, the writer notes that the idea of double arises from this painting. To Foucault the double shows itself in the painting in the painting itself. The painting that Velázquez is painting in the family portrait would be the representation of the reflexion of the King and Queen in the mirror at the trunk.
On the chapter focused on Las Meninas, Foucault argues that the "Classical get older, " roughly the period from the seventeenth-century to the eighteenth-century, was an interval when the intellectual world centered on the representations of the real. Accordingly, Foucault defines the subject of Las Meninas as the representation itself. To price from Foucault:
Perhaps there is, in this painting by Velázquez, the representation as it were of Classical representation, and this is of space it opens up to us. . . But there, amid this dispersion which is simultaneously grouping collectively and dispersing out before us, suggested compellingly out of every side, is an essential void: the required disappearance of this which is its foundation - of the person it resembles and the person whose sight it is merely a resemblance. This very subject - which is the same - has been elided. And representation, freed finally from the connection that was impeding it, can provide itself as representation in its pure form.
Therefore, Foucault argues that in Las Meninas representation attempts to interpretate itself. In contemporaneous viewpoint, it's the language that is going to establish the relation between the similarities with the planet, making possible representation. Thus, one can affirm that the turning point from "classic" epistêmê to "modern" epistêmê is the passing of words as mediator (in representation) to subject of knowledge. Within the "modern" epistêmê, words does not reveal more straight the id of the world, but it reveals the relationships between things and the Man. It is from here occurring the questioning of Man as centre around whom all the knowledge is established. Thus, Velázquez painting presents what's to come. The "modern" epistêmê is anticipated in Velázquez's Las Meninas - it is the utopic function of art of anticipating the near future. Therefore, to Foucault, Las Meninas is represented within an epistemic system - the subject of representation should continue to be invisible (the empty space of the kingship is the area that in the modern episteme will be occupied by the Man). Foucault highlights:
At once subject - since it is what the artist is duplicating onto his canvas - and subject - since what the painter had before his eye, as he represented himself throughout work, was himself, because the gazes portrayed in the picture are directed toward the fictitious position occupied by the royal personage, which is also the painter's real place, because the occupier of that ambiguous place, where the painter and the sovereign alternate, in never-ending flicker, as it were, is the spectator, whose gaze changes the painting into object, the clean representation of this essential absence.
Moreover, Foucault argues that the mirror portrayed in Las Meninas portrays the confrontation between representation and reflexion, being a painting differs from a reflection and a representation runs beyond a reflexion. Therefore, the painting is a representation for the observer, and in the painting of Velázquez one has the painting itself, and inside it one has other represented paintings in addition to a canvas in first plan viewed from the back. In every, this painting is a representation that has as subject matter a kind of empty place that we can fill up with several models. Foucault argues that instead of instituting a simple relation of mimesis as the main theme of the painting, the results of the royal couple would be suggested as some sort of essential emptiness.
According to Foucault, the canvas on the left is the place for a dichotomy between noticeable/invisible. The particular painter appears is doubly invisible, because it is not displayed in the painting, and because we can not see ourselves. The reflection in the trunk is really the only obvious representation, but despite that fact, nobody looks at it. However, what is there displayed, has nothing in connection with the actual painting presents, it displays something that is outdoor to the painting. In the place occupied by the spectator, are the types of the painter. Therefore, the painting allows to see what is doubly unseen. The personas in the mirror will be the less discovered, but it is around them that the representation happens. It really is to them that all the other character's look - gazing outwards the painting. Thus, there are three appears that meet externally of the painting: of the model, in the moment he is being colored, of the spectator that contemplates the scene, and of the painter in as soon as he paints the painting (the main one in front of us, and not the one displayed in the painting). Quoting from Foucault's The Order of Things:
Of all the figures displayed before us, they [the royals] are also the most ignored, since no person is paying the slightest focus on that reflection [in the mirror] which includes slipped into the room behind them all, silently occupying its unsuspected space; in so far as they are noticeable, they are the frailest and the most faraway form of most certainty. Inversely, in so far as they stand outside the picture and are therefore withdrawn from it in an essential invisibility, they offer the centre around which the whole representation is purchased: it is they who are being faced, it is towards them that everyone is transformed. . . from the canvas using its back again to us to the Infanta, and from the Infanta to the dwarf participating in on the extreme right, there works a curve. . . that orders the whole set up of the picture with their gaze and thus makes apparent the true centre of the composition, to which the Infanta's gaze and the image in the mirror are both finally subject.
One should take note here that Foucault's theory emphasises the "interior look" - it constitutes the interior from the surface - as a tool built from the outside to the within of the webs of power. Las Meninas, in Foucault's interpretation help us see this paradigm. By watching the painting, it is notable that the "modern" subject is constituted by monitoring, by the absent look (but at the same time very present), of the power that decides everything, from the character's clothing, gestures, attention, interpersonal position, in sum the means of feeling and experiencing are dependant on a vitality that views all and handles all. Because of these arguments, Foucault points out:
In the serious upheaval of such an archaeological mutation, man appears in his ambiguous position as an object of knowledge and as a topic that has learned: enslaved sovereign, discovered spectator, he looks in the place owned by the king, that was designated to him beforehand by Las Meninas, but from which his real existence has for always been excluded.
On his article "Velázquez' Las Meninas, " Leo Steinberg presents similar arguments to Foucault's, like the visitors of the painting as part of a "sphere which the partitioning picture aircraft slashes in two. " As Steinberg highlights, "if the picture were speaking instead of flashing, it would be expressing: I see you discovering me - I in you see myself seen - see yourself being seen - etc beyond the reaches of the sentence structure. " What specifically likes and dislikes me in Foucault's and Steinberg's strategies is the placing of the "modern" Man (in Foucault's case), and the observer (in Steinberg's case), as pivotal statistics in the interpretation of Las Meninas, being that in their techniques the Man/observer holds the power - he occupies the area of the royal power.
To conclude, when one considers all these different approaches to Las Meninas, some may be offered a complicated web of ability relations. First of all, the painting was produced in seventeenth-century Spain, a original nation-state of Early on Modern European countries, and in and with the judge of Philip IV - the centre of the centralised power structure. Second, the painting depicts the royal electricity interiorly with the portrayal of the Infanta and the King and the Queen in the reflection, and at the same time exteriorly trough the implied existence of the royal couple reflected on the mirror. Finally, the painting also portrays all those ruled by the monarchic ability, like the maids of honour, the girl of honour, the guardadamas, the dwarfs, the Aposentador of the Queen, as well as the painter. Fourthly, it also depicts Velázquez's proclamation of power by portraying himself in the royal home as a nobleman, and at the same time it celebrates his artistical power. Finally, the painting invisibly portrays the Man/observer that occupies the same host to the royal few outside the painting, and that way holds the energy both as subject matter of representation and holder of knowledge. Therefore, you can conclude that what Velázquez performed indeed paint in Las Meninas was electricity - royal power, artistical electricity, and intellectual vitality. The environment and the statistics of Las Meninas are merely incorporations of ability relations, being the painting on his complete a metaphor of electricity.