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  • 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,

  • is 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.

On first glance, this painting might not seem terribly special,

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B1 US TED-Ed painting mirror canvas royal portrait

【TED-Ed】Why is this painting so captivating? - James Earle and Christina Bozsik

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    YSI posted on 2016/03/30
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