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

Velazquez - Las Meninas: The Meaning - Representation Mode I
Svetlana Alpers – Las Meninas
According to Svetlana Alpers Western art is characterized by two distinct modes of representation. In the first mode, which she calls Albertian, the artist positions himself on the viewer's side of the picture surface and looks to the world through a frame widow. He then proceeds to the reconstruction of the world on the surface of his canvas following the conventions of linear perspective. Durer's rendering of a draftsman at work (Fig.9) is, she claims, a good example of the Albertian mode of representation. Alpers (1983, p.37) wrote: “The relationship of the male artist to the female model observed, who offers her naked body to him to capture in his drawing, is part and parcel of the commanding attitude toward the world assumed by this mode of representation.” The second mode which she calls northern or descriptive is different: “In place of an artist who frames the world to picture it, the world produces its own image without a necessary frame. This replicative image is just there for the looking, without the intervention of a human maker. The world so seen is conceived of as existing prior to the artist-viewer.” (Ibid.) She believes that a good example of the second mode is Vermeer's “View of Delft.” (Fig. 10) In regard to this painting, she wrote: “A fragment of a larger world is compressed into a piece of canvas, impressing its surface with color and light without taking the position of a viewer external to it into account. No scale or human measure is assumed.” (Ibid.) Svetlana Albers also wrote: “While in the Albertian picture the artist presumes himself to stand with the viewer before the pictured world in both a physical and epistemological sense,
in the descriptive mode he is accounted for, if at all, within that world… In Dutch paintings of this type [see for example Fig. 11: Vermeer, Jan “Woman in Blue Reading a Letter” c. 1663-1664] the looker within the picture does not look out. That would indeed be a contradiction since a picture of this sort does not assume the existence of viewers prior to and external to it, as does the Albertian mode.” (Ibid.) She concluded her argument about the two different modes of representation as follows: The artist of the first mode or representation claims that “I see the world” while that of the second shows rather that the world is “being seen.” (Ibid.) According to her opinion, Las Meninas is produced out of the combination of the Albertian and the northern modes of representation. Even though they are contradictory modes of representation, they are, she claims, compounded in Las Meninas in a fundamentally irresolvable way. The painting, she argues, should be taken as a representation of the visible world (the court of Philip IV) and as a reconstruction of this same world that we view through the window frame. At first, it seems that the visible world (the court of Philip IV) is represented untainted by the look of outside viewers. For example, the vastness of Velazquez’s studio overpowers us and enhances our respect of the visible world. The fact that we stand behind Velazquez’s easel makes us feel barely accounted for, if at all, within the visible world we are experiencing. Therefore we may say, that here we have a typical northern or descriptive mode of representation which does not assume the existence of viewers prior to and external to it.

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Albrecht Diirer. Draftsman drawing a nude (woodcut), in Unterweysung der Messung (Nuremberg, 1538)

Fig. 9. Albrecht Diirer. Draftsman drawing a nude (woodcut),
in Unterweysung der Messung (Nuremberg, 1538).

Jan Vermeer View of Delft
Jan Vermeer.
View of Delft.
Giclee Print
item #: 15147386A
61 x 46 cm
without border: 55 x 42 cm)
Usually ships in 3-5 Days
It can be framed or wood mounted.
Fig. 10. Jan Vermeer. View of Delft. c. 1660 and 1661. Oil on canvas: 96.5 × 117.5 cm (38 × 46.3 in). Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague.
Jan Vermeer View of Delft

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