Why is this painting so captivating? – James Earle and Christina Bozsik

Why is this painting so captivating? – James Earle and Christina Bozsik


On first glance, this painting might not
seem terribly special, but it’s actually one of the most analyzed
paintings in the history of art. It’s called “Las Meninas,”
or “The Maids of Honor,” painted by Diego Velázquez in 1656, and it depicts a scene in the life
of the Spanish Royal Court. A well-dressed child princess refuses
a glass of water from a handmaid, while a dwarf teases a dog. A second dwarf stands next to them, while the artist himself
pauses at his canvas. Two more people whisper in the background, while a third appears
to be exiting the room, and why wouldn’t he when there seems
to be so little going on? Even the dog looks bored. But look more closely. The two people reflected
in the blurry mirror at the back, easily missed at first glance, are none other than
King Philip IV and Queen Mariana, seemingly changing the scene from a simple
depiction of court life to that of a royal portrait. And with this piece of information, we can begin to understand far more
about the painting and why it has captivated viewers
for centuries. First, there’s the historical context. When “Las Meninas” was painted
at the end of Philip’s reign, the Spanish Empire
was in a period of decline, having suffered defeat in
The Thirty Years War, as well as economic
and political difficulties. The King himself had also
suffered misfortune, losing both his first wife and his only
heir to the throne before remarrying. But the painting obscures their struggle
to provide food for their household. Even the monarch’s advanced
age is concealed through the blurring of the mirror. What we do see in the geometric center
of the canvas, brightly illuminated by the light
from the window, in the Infanta Margarita Teresa, the King’s only living legitimate child
at the time. Her glowing and healthy appearance is an idealized view of the struggling
empire’s future. However, the Infanta is not the only
center of the painting. Through the clever use of perspective, as well as painting the work life-sized,
on a 10.5 x 9 foot canvas, Velázquez blurs the boundary
between art and reality, creating the sense of a three-dimensional
picture that we can walk into. The line between the ceiling and the wall
converges to the open door, further creating the perception
of the painting as a physical space seen from the viewer’s perspective. In this sense, the audience
and the real world are the focus, underlined by the three figures
looking straight at the viewer. But there is still another focal point. The line formed by the light fixtures
leads to the center of the back wall to the mirror reflecting the royal couple. And its positioning relative to the viewer has led to radically different
interpretations of the entire work. The mirror could be reflecting the King
and Queen posing for their portrait, or is it reflecting the canvas? And what do we make of the fact that Velázquez never painted
the royal portrait implied here? Could the painting actually be
depicting its own creation instead? With the incorporation of the mirror
into his work, Velázquez elevated the art of painting from its perception as a simple craft to an intellectual endeavor. With its three competing center points, “Las Meninas” captures the contrast
between the ideal, the real, and the reflected worlds, maintaining an unresolved tension
between them to tell a more complex story than any mirror can provide.

100 thoughts on “Why is this painting so captivating? – James Earle and Christina Bozsik

  1. Unpopular opinion: I don't find it captivating though. Vermeer's Girl With The Pearl Earring, now that's captivating

  2. Hi guys, I´m currently doing my high school monography, and I made a survey about art, I swear it´s an actual survey with no viruses or bad stuff haha, so if you guys could fill it in, it would be great! I´m Colombian so the survey is in spanish: https://freeonlinesurveys.com/s/byco0nDH#/0

  3. Espetacular, me ajudou a construir uma resenha crítica sobre esse trabalho maravilhoso do gênio que foi Velásquez!!! 😀

  4. Whoever said it’s a mirror? For all we know, it could just be a portrait of King Phillip and Queen Mariana and we are overthinking it.

  5. there are 4 people looking at the viewer, not 3. the painter, one of the dwarves, the princess and the girl to the right of the princess.

  6. it's funny though that the princess was supposed to be the center of attention but Velazquez also painted other people who serves the princess… and he also paints himself in the picture.. 😂

  7. Margarita Teresa was NOT his only legitimate surviving child at the time of the painting! His older daughter Maria Theresa was (daughter with his first wife and half-sister of the infanta in the painting) was very much so alive and legitimate at the time.

  8. painting analysis is so interesting, you are no longer just seeing it with the eye, but now it has a deeper meaning to the mind as well.

  9. NONSENSE,
    THE GREAT VELASQUEZ WAS A PRANKSTER. The Spanish have a self deprecating sense of humor. Even Lorca has plenty of it in his plays.

  10. Absolutely true I was at the Prado yesterday and was shocked by how this painting makes you feel like you are in the same room as the people in the painting! when you look deeper you see interesting things like a mirror reflecting the king and queen… it’s great to see the thinking behind it 🙂

  11. I am so tired tonight, sorry. I am so sleepy. Long day. I remember that dream I had about you. The morning I watched the videos, and went back to bed. I can decipher it now. Even though I had to rudely leave three times for errands, you were still there upon my return. On my bed. Waiting. I wondered what I had done so good to deserve your company, you lying there. It was a sweet dream. I haven't dreamed it since. But I prefer to create my own dreams now, before bed. And you know how they go. 🙂

  12. I think the video would have been better if you had concentrated more on just the painting rather than adding all the animation to explain it. I mean the video is supposed to be about the painting but the number of animation changes and perspective change due to it is too high and the painting looses its glory.

  13. The perspective lines created by the ceiling light fixtures DON'T point to the center of the back wall. They point to the lighted doorway. Duh. The lines you drew clearly demonstrate that.

  14. Margaret Theresa of Spain, She´s such a beautiful little princess! Sad that she had such a short life, but it is a very interesting life i must say.
    You guys have to do a video about her wedding! Pleaaase! Pleaaase! 😀 She had one of the biggest, longest, most lavish and most expensive weddings in the history!
    Why? well she got married when she was only 15 years old to the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I.
    He was 12 years older, and not only does he look like a total creep but he also was her uncle, they were relatives by blood.
    Sadly during her last pregnancy she contracted bronchitis which along with her already weakened health,
    due to four living childbirths and at least two miscarriages during her marriage, she died at the age of 21 :'(
    But even though the wedding was arranged, they actually fell for each other and shared their love many times in the 6 years they were wed, and then she died.

  15. Another video trying to make something out of something. What if there's really nothing there? Cause I'm not convinced that this is really into something.

  16. To me the painting in the left side view is the one the mirror is reflecting. I believe the king and queen isn't physically in that room at all. The mirror is reflecting the PAINTING of the king and queen.

  17. Velasquez was a truly great painter, one of the best ever. But he is also an example of how a single artist's work and legacy can, (unintentionally of course), hold back and stagnate the work of generations of artists who come after him/her. I once heard a writer say that Shakespeare, as great as he was, was actually bad for English drama in one respect as his work became so dominant, it effectively stalled the further development of theater in Britain for centuries after his death. Velasquez's work created a similar situation. The painterly, tonal realism of his style was admired and obsessively imitated by generations of painters who came after him, especially in Britain where his work was idolized in the Georgian era by portrait painters like Gainsborough and Reynolds. In Australia, between the late 1800s and up until the early 1950s, there were hordes of tonal realist painters who were brought up to worship Velasquez like a God and who all thought they were carrying on his legacy. But they usually just imitated the surfaces of Velasquez's paintings, the free-brush, painterly tonal style, using it to churn out hundreds of drab grey-brown portraits. They were trying to just copy the style of Velasquez but they overlooked the substance, the things that truly made the Spaniard great- how he captured the character, emotions and personality of his subjects. My Dad went to art-school in Australia in the 1950s and he said that by then, teachers were no longer pushing Velasquez's work as the ultimate benchmark, it was now Cezanne who was the new idol for art students to revere and emulate.

  18. The Baroque era was so genius we are still sitting here over 300 years later analyzing the works along the likes of Velasquez and Bach.

  19. I always thought it was because Diego Velazquez painted himself literally higher than every other royal in the painting, but this is more smart lol

  20. I actually saw this painting in person and it’s so beautiful and it feels almost real. It feels like you’re actually there.

  21. I actually captivated by arts, but my parents said arts are so useless and didn't get money and movies are so better than seeing pictures, and I admit they are true so I give up on pursuing arts, I only just coming to galleries sometimes

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