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

Velazquez - Las Meninas: Meaning - The Blank Space
Foucault wrote: “This centre [the blank space] is symbolically sovereign, since it is occupied by the King Philip IV and his wife. But it is so above all because of the triple function it fulfils in relation to the picture. For in there occurs an exact superimposition of the model’s [the King] as it is being painted, of the spectator’s as he contemplates the painting, and of the painter’s as he is composing his picture.” (Michel Foucault (1966). The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, pp. 14-15. Quoted in: Tanke (2009)

According to Foucault Las Meninas is historically situated at the midpoint of three different cultural and scientific eras that characterize Western civilization from the Renaissance period until our own time. These are: the Renaissance period in Western history that spans the fifteenth to the start of the seventeenth century; the Classical age, the seventeenth century through the end of the eighteenth; and modern age, which for Foucault begins at the end of the eighteenth century and continues to our own day. Each age assigns to thought a particular direction that it must follow.

The king’s gaze and the way it influences the visible world of Las Meninas represents Renaissance’s aristocratic political order which was governed by its emphasis on resemblance, reflections and similarities. Tante (2009) wrote: “Velazquez’s mirror contains what is structurally absent from this canvas and archaeologically incompatible with the painting’s existence as representation. In the section ‘The Place of the King’, Foucault describes the mirror as ‘showing us what is represented, but as a reflection so distant, so
deeply buried in an unreal space… that it is no more than the frailest duplication of representation … As Velazquez places brush to canvas to represent Philip and Maria Anna, for whom the world is only resemblance, he steps on their toes and ushers them aside. In doing so, he usurps the power previously vested in resemblance within Western Knowledge… In the displacement of the royal order, we have the beginnings of a mode of being that will characterize the modern artist. It is of no little significance to us that the artist steps into the place occupied by the king and the queen. .. What Foucault calls the ‘artistic life,’ the heroic estimation of the artist that continues into our own day, has roots in this breakup of the Renaissance episteme.”

Velazquez’s world view in Las Meninas represents the new age of Classical representation. It is an era which moves away from the taxonomy of the world in terms of resemblance and instead gives special emphasis on the essential properties of things. On the cultural level we see an emphasis on portraiture and the accurate, untainted representation of the subject.

Our Modern thought is a radical departure of the Classical age of representation because for Modernity, knowledge entails knowledge of what makes representation possible. Tante (2009) wrote: “The modern episteme came into being as the grids of representation established by the Classical age began to crack up at the end of the eighteenth century. Foucault presents this event as having unfolded in two decisive stages. In both cases, across the domains of natural history, the analysis of wealth,


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Velazquez - Las Meninas, Self portrait, detail of the Artist at His Easel
Fig. 13. Velazquez - Las Meninas. Detail of the Artist at His Easel.
Velazquez - Las Meninas.
Detail of the Artist at His Easel

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!
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Velazquez - Las Meninas, Self portrait, detail of the Artist at His Easel
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