Velazquez- Las Meninas: Analysis and Interpretation
Diego Velazquez
Velazquez's selfportrait
Las Meninas
By Diego Velazquez

Velazquez - Las Meninas: Meaning - Representation Mode II
After our first glance at the painting we notice a shift in the mode of representation. For example, we see that Velazquez is leaning his head to the left of his easel and he is looking out towards us and his model (the king and queen) which is not represented but is reflected in the back wall mirror. His gaze confirms and acknowledges us and then slowly we begin to look at the painting at a completely different way: We notice that the size of the figures in the painting is a match for our own. Therefore, the painting has a direct impact not only on our eyes but on our bodies as well. Its perspective whose vanishing point is the doorway, straight ahead of the viewer’s eye, enhances the virtual reality of the scene and our presence in it. We could easily say that everything in the painting which enhances our presence and our point of view as spectators is part and parcel of the commanding attitude toward the visible world assumed by the Albertian mode of representation. On the contrary, everything in the painting that distances us from the visible world is part and parcel of the northern or descriptive mode of representation.    

Unfortunately Alpers does not go very far with her analysis of the painting’s two contradictory modes of representation. She soon forgets the spectator’s interaction with the painting and she begins examining Velazquez’s relation with Philip’s court.  She acknowledges his respect of Philip’s court but she also mentions that his bold personality could not be limited (“framed”) by the court’s etiquette. She concluded her article as follows: “As Las Meninas shows, Velazquez sees himself as part of the very court he sees through.” (Ibid. 40)
Calvin Hall and Richard Lind in their book: Dreams, Life & Literature, A study of Franz Kafka (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1970, p. 34), distinguish two types of primary dreamers: the “participant” and the “observer.” Usually the dreamer is both an observer and a participant. In their analysis of Kafka’s dreams they claim that Kafka was predominately an “observer” in his dreams. This “voyeuristic” motif, they say, is “vividly expressed in two [of his] dreams in which Kafka is at the theater. He describes in detail what takes place on the stage and in the audience” but he distances himself from the visible world he describes. Kafka’s voyeurism in his dreams and his literature was closely related to his timidity in his everyday life.

I would not go as far as to claim that the northern mode of representation is “voyeuristic” and it expresses the artist’s timidity towards the world. On the other hand, it is obvious to me that our understanding of the various modes of representation in art must be enhanced. It seems to me that Svetlana Alpers has interpreted the northern mode of representation as a detached, objective study of the visible world. In her more recent book: Alpers, Svetlana, 2007, p.21. The Vexations of art: Velázquez and others. New Haven: Yale University Press. She wrote: “There is a wildness about light in Vermeer. It provides the drama in his pictures. Vermeer’s people exist between the play of light that is the agent of visibility in the world and the erasure that threatens when, without it, they fall into shadow. Light is not assumed by Vermeer, it is studied.”


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Jan Vermeer Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-1664)
Fig. 11. Jan Vermeer. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter. (1663-1664).
Jan Vermeer. Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
Velazquez’s Las Meninas is a portrait of Infanta Margarita, the daughter of King Philip IV. This article focuses on the way Velazquez painted Infanta Margarita’s psychological perplexity in front of the large window of his studio. It also focuses on Infanta Margarita’s beauty, her intelligence, and above all her interest in the beauty of the visible world!
Framed Giclee Print
item #: 12060025A
62 x 70 cm
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It can be framed or wood mounted.
Jan Vermeer Woman in Blue Reading a Letter (1663-1664)
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George Konstantinidis