The writer of the picture Las Meninas ( 1656 ) , Diego Velazquez ( 1599-1660 ) worked at the tribunal of Philip IV, therefore at the Centre of the centralized power construction of one of the original nation-states of Early Modern Europe. Las Meninas has been argued – both in Velazquez clip and in ours – to be his chef-d’oeuvre.

My intent in this essay is to reason for an reading of this picture and its defining by an geographic expedition of power dealingss instead than by perspectival considerations. My involvement in the present essay will be to analyze Las Meninas within the position of power dealingss, in an attempt to supply an alternate reading to the literature based strictly on the proficient facets of the picture. A batch has been written sing the great unclearness that the picture Las Meninas seals, but, there is a inquiry that we must admit in presence of the ocular elaborateness of the picture, what so did Velazquez pigment? I am non looking to supply the concluding reply to this inquiry in this essay. However, I believe that by analyzing Las Meninas within the position of power dealingss, I can lend to the scholarship on Velazquez and supply an attack that can besides lend to the reply of this inquiry.

Las Meninas ( fig. 1 ) ( Spanish for The Maids of Honour ) is an oil on canvas picture with 318 centimeters A- 276 centimeter. The scene is a big room and it has long been ill-defined whether the inside represented in the picture is existent or fanciful. F. J. Sanchez Canton identified the room by the pictures in it as the chief chamber of an flat in the Alcazar of Madrid that had been occupied by Prince Baltazar Carlos before its assignment to Velazquez.[ 2 ]However, F. Iniguez Almech was unable, when analyzing the seventeenth-century programs of Alcazar, to place any room that would match to the 1 in the picture, being possible that Velazquez did non picture any existent room.[ 3 ]

Fig. 1. – Diego Velazquez, Las Meninas, 1656, Museu Nacional del Prado, Madrid. Available from: Museu Nacional del Prado Galeria On-Line & lt ; & gt ; ( accessed 29 March 2010 ) .

The picture presents a composing distributed in good organized spacial construction that provides to the pictured room a esthesis of pragmatism, propinquity and deepness, being the composing concentric, with the Infanta Margarita Maria de Austria as its focal point.[ 4 ]The deepness of the picture is accentuated by the frames on the wall on the right, by the canvas on the left and by the two empty pendants on the ceiling. In add-on, the picture combines discreet colorss, supplying harmoniousness to the picture ( white, gray and black of the garbs with inside informations in ruddy, ecru of the canvas, and once more tones of black and Grey in the non-illuminated parts of the room ) .[ 5 ]

On the right of the room, one has an oblique position of the wall with apertures which seem to be Windowss that let light into the room. On the left, the position of the room is cut by a big canvas seen from the dorsum. The painter himself, Diego Velazquez, is portrayed in forepart of this canvas with a paintbrush on his manus, who seems to hold merely stopped working on the canvas for a minute in order to stare out his theoretical accounts. Velazquez was 57 old ages old when he painted Las Meninas and depicted himself in it, but without furrows, white hair, or any other mark that could bespeak his existent age. The canvas Velazquez is working on is non seeable to the spectator. More or less to the Centre of the canvas stands a small miss identified as the Infanta of Spain, Dona Margarita Maria de Austria, who besides gazes out in the mode of a portrayal, and around who “ the other figures gravitate. . . like planets of an intricate, subtly ordered system, and reflect her visible radiation. ”[ 6 ]She is surrounded on both sides by two immature adult females attenders ( the meninas of the rubric ) , being the 1 on the left ( Dona Maria Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor ) kneeling at the pess of the Infanta and offering her a bucaro in a tray, while the other on the right ( Dona Isabel de Velasco ) inclines a spot to the Infanta and turns her glimpse outwards the canvas. To the right of this group, in the corner of the canvas, stand two midgets of deformed visual aspect, besides tribunal attenders. The adult female named Maria Barbola gazes outwards, while the dwarf who steps on the Canis familiaris is Nicolasico Pertusato. On a more distant program is Dona Marcela de Ulloa, lady of honor, who turns her caput to turn to a adult male ( bodyguard for ladies of the tribunal ) , who stands beside her and looks outwards. Some distance behind them is the rear wall of the room, which has a door where stands Don Jose Nieto Velazquez, Aposentador of the Queen, besides staring outwards. To the left of Jose Nieto, the King Philip IV and the Queen Maria Ana de Austria are reflected in a mirror. Some of the figures in the picture present small job of designation, viz. Velazquez and the Infanta ; the others are less obvious. This designation of the figures in the picture is based on Velazquez earliest biographer, Antonio Palomino, who named the figures in Las Meninas on the footing of the known population of the tribunal in Book III of his Museu Pictorico y Escala Optica, which was foremost published in 1724.[ 7 ]Palomino besides identifies the two pictures in the upper portion of the dorsum wall with the so current royal retentions: Minerva Punishing Arachne and Apollo ‘s Victory over Marsyas, both originally by Peter Paul Rubens.[ 8 ]

The Infanta occupies the Centre of the ocular focal point, together with the King and Queen ‘s contemplation on the mirror and the painter. The superior half of the picture is occupied with lamps and musca volitanss of visible radiation that enter trough the gaps on the right wall ; there are shadows covering the dorsum superior portion of the wall. The scene is taken from an angle that closes itself in the right with an gap in the wall. In the left, in another diagonal program, the picture that is being painted by Velazquez leaves the figures in 2nd program and cuts sidelong the infinite. In the dorsum, the mirror and the door make allusion to unknown infinites, which together with the spacial constellation of the depicted room open the picture to the outside and pulls the spectator to inside of the composing. As Madlyn Millner Kahr points out, “ the mirror in the picture contributes its ain particular trade name of thaumaturgy. In Las Meninas it directs the perceiver ‘s attending to events traveling on “ outside the image ” ( the presence of the royal twosome ) , which in bend brings the perceiver within the image country. ”[ 9 ]

On her article “ Velazquez and Las Meninas, ” Kahr divides “ the dramatis personae of characters ” with a “ broad scope of ages and physical types ” into different groups.[ 10 ]One of these groups is the Canis familiaris, the dwarf and the female midget. Harmonizing to Kahr, these three characters form a group apart due to “ their place in infinite and their compositional integrity. ”[ 11 ]The cardinal group, as Kahr argues, stands behind them, being constituted by the Infanta and the two meninas. The painter, Dona Marcela de Ulloa and the guardadamas forms another group ; and the last group is composed by the Aposentador of the Queen standing in the stepss and by King Philip IV and Queen Maria Ana reflected on the mirror.[ 12 ]Therefore, Kahr divides the characters in groups of three. This division provides integrity, coherency and construction to the picture, and by puting the group of the Infanta and the two meninas as the cardinal one, Kahr ‘s group division concurs with Palomino ‘s consideration that the picture is a portrayal of the Infanta.[ 13 ]The visible radiation that enters the room by the right side wall apertures chiefly illuminates the Infanta, Dona Maria Agustina Sarmiento and partly the other menina, that are highlighted in relation to the darkness behind them, reenforcing the construct that Las Meninas is a portrayal of the Infanta of Spain. Carl Justi besides described Las Meninas as a portrayal of the Infanta Margarita as the Centre of a perennial scene of the castle life.[ 14 ]

Joel Snyder agrees that sing the picture as the portrayal of the Infanta Margarita, as Palomino and Carl Justi do, is a motion in the right way, “ but it fails to explicate the presence of all the other figures in it that compete for our attending. ”[ 15 ]Jonathan Brown states that the topic of the picture is no 1 in peculiar, but that the picture is a claim for the aristocracy of Velazquez ‘s art.[ 16 ]However, Snyder points out:

To propose that Las Meninas is a presentation of the aristocracy of painting and of its proper topographic point in the broad humanistic disciplines, as Jonathan Brown does, is to turn up the involvement of the picture in the conditions of its inception and in the agencies employed to bring forth the presentation. This is certainly interesting and, if right, uncovering ; but, once more, it does non convey us to footings with the topic of the painting – with what the picture is tout ensemble.[ 17 ]

First, the tout ensemble of the picture may be explored separately ( sing the power dealingss between each figure in the picture ) , in order to so place the topic of the picture.

In nearing this issue, one should hold that one can place the presence of the centralized power in the picture Las Meninas. The power in this picture may be recognized in several facets. There is in the picture two distinguishable societal groups: the working category and the 1 that enjoys the labor of those who work. On the one manus, we have the painter, the amahs, the lady of honor, the bodyguard for ladies of the tribunal, the Aposentador of the Queen, and the midget represented ; while, on the other manus, we have the nobility represented in the Infanta that occupies the Centre of the picture and King Philip IV and Queen Maria Ana de Austria reflected on the mirror.

When one inquiries why Velazquez depicted himself together with all the members of the royal family, the reply may be that he wanted to bespeak that he besides belonged to this celebrated circle. Sira Dambe states that “ in Golden Age Spain, the art of picture, still relegated to the rank of trade, had non yet been accorded equal position with the higher humanistic disciplines, such as music or poesy. ”[ 18 ]Therefore, this picture may be seen as “ Velazquez ‘s announcement of. . . power and position as a Godhead. ”[ 19 ]The ecclesiastic power is besides present in the cross of the Santiago ‘s Order in the thorax of the painter, which was non originally painted by Velazquez, being painted after the creative persons ‘ decease by the King ‘s demand.[ 20 ]When analyzing the Fable of Arachne and Las Meninas, Jonathan Brown provinces, “ [ Velazquez ‘s ] claim for the aristocracy of his art are steadfastly embedded in these multi-layered plants, ” and in Las Meninas “ the gentleman painter, stands confidently at the easel, enjoying in the glorification of the sovereign ‘s individual. And on his chest, the vibrant ruddy cross of Santiago marks the creative person as a Lord. ”[ 21 ]

In add-on, one can besides place the presence of the artistical power of the painter over the staying figures due to the dominium of the artistic linguistic communication, but at the same clip, the artistic demands to obey to a superior power, and in this instance, the kingship. This statement finds support on the royal twosome pictured in the mirror that consequently stand for the royal power. On her article “ Visualizing Power: Representation and Las Meninas, ” Amy M. Schmitter affirms:

The King ‘s representation is a force of power, a manifestation of royal power that embodies, shows, and extends it. It is a representation that acts, that represents by showing, exhibiting, or exposing rubrics and makings, by calculating them in picture, by being a mark, by conveying to observation, and by playing in public. It thereby constitutes its topic, the royal power and the royal office, by stand foring it.[ 22 ]

One can hold that the word picture of the King Philip IV and the Queen Maria Ana de Austria on the mirror and of the Infanta Margarita as chief focal point of the picture represents straight in the painting the royal power – it represents those that should be looked with fear and entry. Furthermore, with the glimpses one receives and returns in the picture, the represented royal power gazes with control and watchfulness over everyone else.

Sing the power dealingss between the staying figures of the picture, one can reason that the meninas, the guardadamas and the lady of honor, by their ain societal status are subsidiaries of the kingship. The two midget are besides condemned to the royal power and have as their map to entertain the royal family. The Canis familiaris that is being stepped by the midget on the right is condemned to an even lower place ( a submissive animate being ) . In this position of power dealingss, the presence of Jose Nieto Velazquez becomes puzzling. Despite being the Aposentador of the Queen and hence ruled by the royal power, he is portrayed in profile on the steps of the back door, apparently bespeaking an indecisiveness of remaining under the regard of the royal power or go forthing. From this analysis, one can hold that all the figures of the picture are entangled in the webs of power.

Although the boundary lines of power are good defined in the picture, stand foring the historical, political and economic conditions of seventeenth-century Spain, another manner of looking at this issue is through the indirect allusions besides present in the picture, such as the midget, positioned in perfect diagonal alliance with the painter. The two associate by contrast: the painter as the Godhead and supporter of what is beautiful, and the midget as symbol of malformation. In common, there is the fact that both are represented images of societal groups placed aside from power. One should, however, see this resistance from another angle. From the contrast itself between what the painter and the midget represent, one can obtain an exchange of parts by admiting that the humanistic disciplines represent both the sublime every bit good as the grotesque. Therefore, there is in this aesthetical lettering a corruption of the institutionalized values of power.

The power of kingship is besides cardinal in Michel Foucault ‘s chapter on Diego Velazquez ‘s Las Meninas, being this the gap chapter of his book The Order of Thingss.[ 23 ]Harmonizing to Foucault the map of the mirror contemplation of the King and the Queen is to convey to the painting what is external to it. In the chapter Las Meninas, Foucault attributes the subject of the picture to the external infinite and gives the Infanta and her amahs ( internal infinite ) the map of entertaining the King and Queen that are in forepart of the representation ( outside infinite ) as Velazquez ‘s theoretical accounts.[ 24 ]

Foucault ‘s critical analysis derives from the observation angle of the Infanta, the King and Queen in the mirror and how their regards define the Centre of the image. The mirror in the back leads to the decision, as Foucault provinces, that it is about a inquiry of what looks and what is looked. From these brushs of regards and perceptual experiences, the writer notes that the impression of dual arises from this picture. To Foucault the two-base hit reveals itself in the picture from inside the painting itself. The picture that Velazquez is painting in the portrayal will be the representation of the reflection of the King and Queen in the mirror at the dorsum.[ 25 ]

On the chapter dedicated to Las Meninas, Foucault argues that the “ Classical age, ” approximately the period from the seventeenth-century to the eighteenth-century, was a period when the rational universe focused on the representations of the existent. Consequently, Foucault defines the topic of Las Meninas as the representation itself. To cite from Foucault:

Possibly there exists, in this picture by Velazquez, the representation as it were of Classical representation, and the definition of infinite it opens up to us. . . But at that place, in the thick of this scattering which is at the same time grouping together and distributing out before us, indicated compellingly from every side, is an indispensable nothingness: the necessary disappearing of that which is its foundation – of the individual it resembles and the individual whose eyes it is merely a resemblance. This really capable – which is the same – has been elided. And representation, freed eventually from the relation that was hindering it, can offer itself as representation in its pure signifier.[ 26 ]

Therefore, Foucault argues that in Las Meninas representation attempts to interpretate itself. In contemporary doctrine, it is the linguistic communication that is traveling to set up the relation between the similarities with the universe, doing possible representation. Therefore, one can confirm that the turning point from “ authoritative ” episteme to “ modern ” episteme is the transition of linguistic communication as go-between ( in representation ) to object of cognition. In the “ modern ” episteme , linguistic communication does non uncover more straight the individuality of the universe, but it reveals the dealingss between things and the Man. It is from here that occurs the inquiring of Man as Centre around whom all the cognition is created. Therefore, Velazquez painting represents what is to come. The “ modern ” episteme is anticipated in Velazquez ‘s Las Meninas – it is the utopic map of art of expecting the hereafter. Consequently, to Foucault, Las Meninas is represented in an epistemological system – the topic of representation should stay unseeable ( the empty infinite of the kingship is the topographic point that in the modern episteme will be occupied by the Man ) . Foucault points out:

At one time object – since it is what the creative person is copying onto his canvas – and capable – since what the painter had in forepart of his eyes, as he represented himself in the class of work, was himself, since the regards portrayed in the image are all directed toward the fabricated place occupied by the royal personage, which is besides the painter ‘s existent topographic point, since the resident of that equivocal topographic point, in which the painter and the autonomous surrogate, in ceaseless spark, as it were, is the witness, whose regard transforms the picture into object, the pure representation of that indispensable absence.[ 27 ]

Furthermore, Foucault argues that the mirror portrayed in Las Meninas portrays the confrontation between representation and reflection, being that a picture is different from a mirror and a representation goes beyond a reflection. Therefore, the picture is a representation for the perceiver, and in the picture of Velazquez 1 has the painting itself, and inside it one has other represented pictures and besides a canvas in first program viewed from the dorsum. In all, this picture is a representation that has every bit capable a sort of empty topographic point that we can make full with several theoretical accounts. Foucault argues that alternatively of establishing a simple relation of mimesis as the chief subject of the picture, the figures of the royal twosome would be indicated as a sort of indispensable emptiness.[ 28 ]

Harmonizing to Foucault, the canvas on the left is the topographic point for a duality between visible/invisible. What the painter looks is double unseeable, because it is non represented in the picture, and because we can non see ourselves. The mirror in the dorsum is the lone seeable representation, but despite that fact, no 1 looks at it. However, what is at that place represented, has nil to make with what the picture nowadayss, it reflects something that is exterior to the picture. In the topographic point occupied by the witness, are the theoretical accounts of the painter. Therefore, the picture allows to see what is double unseeable. The characters in the mirror are the less noticed, but it is around them that all the representation happens. It is to them that all the other character ‘s expression – gazing outwards the picture.[ 29 ]Therefore, there are three expressions that meet on the exterior of the picture: of the theoretical account, in the minute he is being painted, of the witness that contemplates the scene, and of the painter in the minute he paints the picture ( the 1 in forepart of us, and non the 1 represented in the picture ) . Quoting from Foucault ‘s The Order of Thingss:

Of all the figures represented before us, they [ the royals ] are besides the most neglected, since no 1 is paying the slightest attending to that contemplation [ in the mirror ] which has slipped into the room behind them all, mutely busying its unsuspected infinite ; in so far as they are seeable, they are the frailest and the most distant signifier of all world. Inversely, in so far as they stand outside the image and are hence withdrawn from it in an indispensable invisibleness, they provide the Centre around which the full representation is ordered: it is they who are being faced, it is towards them that everyone is turned. . . from the canvas with its dorsum to us to the Infanta, and from the Infanta to the midget playing on the utmost right, there runs a curve. . . that orders the whole agreement of the image to their regard and therefore makes evident the true Centre of the composing, to which the Infanta ‘s regard and the image in the mirror are both eventually capable.[ 30 ]

One should observe here that Foucault ‘s theory emphasises the “ interior expression ” – it constitutes the inside from the exterior – as a device built from the exterior to the interior of the webs of power. Las Meninas, in Foucault ‘s reading aid us see this paradigm. By detecting the picture, it is noticeable that the “ modern ” topic is constituted by surveillance, by the absent expression ( but at the same clip really present ) , of a power that determines everything, from the character ‘s vesture, gestures, attending, societal place, in sum the ways of feeling and seeing are determined by a power that sees all and controls all. In position of these statements, Foucault points out:

In the profound turbulence of such an archeological mutant, adult male appears in his equivocal place as an object of cognition and as a topic that knows: enslaved crowned head, ascertained witness, he appears in the topographic point belonging to the male monarch, which was assigned to him in progress by Las Meninas, but from which his existent presence has for long been excluded.[ 31 ]

On his article “ Velazquez ‘ Las Meninas, ” Leo Steinberg nowadayss similar statements to Foucault ‘s, including the viewing audiences of the picture as portion of a “ sphere which the breakdown image plane cuts in two. ”[ 32 ]As Steinberg points out, “ if the image were talking alternatively of flashing, it would be stating: I see you seeing me – I in you see myself seen – see yourself being seen – and so on beyond the ranges of the grammar. ”[ 33 ]What peculiarly involvements me in Foucault ‘s and Steinberg ‘s attacks is the placing of the “ modern ” Man ( in Foucault ‘s instance ) , and the perceiver ( in Steinberg ‘s instance ) , as polar figures in the reading of Las Meninas, being that in their attacks the Man/observer holds the power – he occupies the topographic point of the royal power.

To reason, when one considers all these different attacks to Las Meninas, one is presented with a complex web of power dealingss. First, the picture was produced in seventeenth-century Spain, a original nation-state of Early Modern Europe, and in and with the tribunal of Philip IV – the Centre of a centralized power construction. Second, the picture depicts the royal power interiorly with the portraiture of the Infanta and the King and the Queen in the mirror, and at the same clip exteriorly trough the implied presence of the royal twosome reflected on the mirror. Third, the picture besides portrays all those ruled by the monarchal power, such as the amahs of honor, the lady of honor, the guardadamas, the midget, the Aposentador of the Queen, and besides the painter. Fourthly, it besides depicts Velazquez ‘s announcement of power by portraying himself in the royal family as a Lord, and at the same clip it celebrates his artistical power. Finally, the picture invisibly portrays the Man/observer that occupies the same topographic point of the royal twosome outside the picture, and that this manner holds the power both as topic of representation and holder of cognition. Therefore, one can reason that what Velazquez did so pigment in Las Meninas was power – royal power, artistical power, and rational power. The scene and the figures of Las Meninas are merely incorporations of power dealingss, being the picture on his whole a metaphor of power.