Ladies don’t wait
“A mere confrontation, eyes catching one another’s glance,
direct looks superimposing themselves upon one another
as they cross. And yet this slender line of reciprocal visibility embraces
a whole complex network of uncertainties, exchanges, and feints”
–Michel Foucault on Las Meninas
Ah so true in life, Monsieur Foucault, but true in Las Meninas, painted in 1656, by Diego Velasquez, too. This painting is as crazy as life. That quote could apply as well to a scene in a singles bar, or a museum.
I get dizzy looking at it. Metaphysically anyway. Usta think you looked at a painting as if it were a window you were looking through. At some place quite separate from the globs of oil and powder stuck to an opaque piece of cloth. It was a leap of faith on your part to do so.
But its not so simple now and never really was. Even back when, even before Velasquez was painting the “Ladies.” Paintings were more than windows. They were more like texts; they were literature for the illiterate. Illustrations, not illusions. But paintings as illusions, as windows had been on the rise for about 150 yrs in Europe when Velasquez was working and that aspect of them continued to dominate for at least another 200 yrs. Manet (the picnic) took the first swing in the mid 1900s and Picasso knocked it out 50 yrs later with his “Ladies.”
Velasquez is still asking for your faith in painting as window, but he’s asking you not to see several things at once but to imagine several things at once. No not really because you can’t do that. He wants you to imagine this to be it, then that, and then back to this, then maybe something else. Do you get that? This painting is in an odd way the first “moving picture”
Is it a self portrait is it a portrait of the Infanta or is it a genre scene of court life? The answer is yes, but by being all three a once when we can’t grasp such things all at once he forced us ,to alternate our concept of it between those three, yes its still a window, but not in a building, more like a train on a short loop of a track
The traditional view of it is that he is painting the royal couple and we see the scene from their point of view. This is said to be proven by the mirror in the back of the room that reflects them. But what if the mirror is a painting as all the other framed things on that wall appear to be? I read some where that the king and queen are on the wrong side of each other as protocol would dictate to be a reflection flopped so it must be painting, yes?
If that is so who are Velasquez and the Infanta so intently looking at.? if it’s a self portrait then its just he painting himself looking at himself. If it’s a genre scene, a painting of a painting scene, where las meninas are prepping the snotty Infanta for here date with history. It could be either.
If its the latter the royal couple could be the intended point of view, they having stopped by to watch their spawn immortalized if it’s the former its Velasquez’s p.o.v. proud as hell he’s part of the royal entourage.
I’ll leave all that up to you to work out. Now look at my drawings. In “I” I’ve walked us into the painting; it’s a door not a window for artists themselves, you know. And I’ve turned the entourage into a bunch of tourists. The royal palace is half way a museum gallery too. I’ve locked into the portrait of the infanta scenario too.
In “II” we are looking at the backs of the entourage as if we are, in the words of another 19th cent fighter “through the looking glass,” but we are here now the painting is in the Prado. The unseen viewer is still us but the royal couple is stuck in tourist-land.
And “III” the most real of all, the painting as it is ‘cept for Picasso in the background – he homaged it 50some times. Velasquez as a costumed re-creator entertaining the tourists/royal couple.
Me too, as well as a copy of me in “II” and “III” why, why not? A self portrait in a parody of a self portrait seems s to make sense.