Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour) is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, the famous artist of the Spanish Golden Age. The theme of the painting and of the gaze in painting has its standard text in this picture of 1656, almost a snapshot of life at court, with the figures in the background out of focus. In a spatiotemporal paradox, the artist stepping back from the easel to compare the painting with reality is the author of the work himself. Velazquez is looking at the scene he is painting, a scene that is situated on this side of the canvas, in the same real space from which we are gazing at the picture, all equally involved in the work. This technique of including the observer in the canvas is typical of the Spanish baroque. The meninas are the maids of honor surrounding the Infanta Margarita, potential heir to the throne at the time. On the left kneels Maria Augustina de Sarmiento, while on Margarita's right we can recognize Isabel de Velasco, curtseying next to the dwarfs Mari-Barbola and Nicolas Pertusato, who is prodding the big Castilian mastiff with one foot. In the background Marcela de Ulloa, servant of the maids, is conversing with Diego Ruiz de Azcona, while the palace chamberlain Jose Nieto Velazquez appears in a doorway that opens up a space at the back of the picture. Paintings hang on the walls, including Rubens Minerva and Arachne and Jacob Jordaens Apollo and Marsyas, while a mirror reflects the image of the king and queen of Spain, Philip IV and Mariana of Austria, probably the subjects of Velazquez's painting. The painting canvas has its back to us and its contents are hidden, but the mirror reveals them, showing to us what is outside our angle of view, capturing the reality that would escape a normal framing. Artists used the mirror both as an element to be inserted in the picture and as an aid in their work, as in the case of self-portraits, and in 15th-century Flanders painters and manufacturers of mirrors belonged to the same guild. In the middle of the 16th century the most widely used type of mirror was still the convex one, but this was gradually replaced by the flat kind, invented in Germany or Flanders and perfected in Venice. Van Eyck had already utilized the mirror in exemplary fashion in the Arnolfini Marriage Group, a painting that had been in the royal collections at Madrid and that Velazquez may therefore have seen. With rapid strokes of the brush the painter, who is wearing the noble Cross of Santiago, added after the painting was finished, depicts what the king and queen see while they are having their portraits painted. Born out of a deep trust in the powers of representation, the painting is a literal application of the teaching Velazquez had received from his master and father-in-law Francisco Pacheco: "The image should come out of the picture."
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