A few days ago I found myself involved in a conversation about hidden potential. The upshot of this was that, I could potentially, play football for England this year if I put my mind to it. Sure, I am not fit in anyway, nor do I understand the offside rule, and the thought of chasing around after a pig skin for 90 minutes repels me, but if I was paid the wage of professional footballer, would probably find the motivation to get fit, train and eat pasta at 9am. I think I would probably be found standing in the corner of the pitch, drinking a gin and arguing with the other players, but I think I could definitely get there if I put my mind to it, it is just a talent I have not yet unearthed. I bet you’re wondering how I am going to tie this in to a painting about the spanish royalty, which has then been replicated by another artist…well hold tight and you’ll see.
The original of “Las Meninas” or ‘The Ladies-in-waiting’ was painted by Velázquez in 1656, and to understand Picasso’s rendition, I think we need to understand the original first.
At a glance, it seems to be a fairly simple depiction of a scene of just what the title says – ladies in waiting, but the composition and structure of this painting along with its many figures actually encompass orders from the King, a self portrait, reflective portraits and a view to illusion and reality.
The structure of this painting is really quite complex. There are eleven figures visible, and the canvas has been split into quarters and and sevenths. The lighting and shade of the piece accurately highlights several focal points for the audience in what could have otherwise been a rather dimly lit painting. There are a few natural light sources which highlight the main focal point of the blonde girl who is central to the piece, one from the right of the painting and then from the back through the open doorway. The linear composition enhancing the way the light plays on the figures and brings a depth of dimension which is enchanting.
The blonde girl is the five years old Infanta – Margaret Theresa, daughter to King Philip IV, and the painting is set in Alcázar palace in Madrid. The high ceilings of the palace lending themselves to the format chosen for the composition and giving a single vanishing point.
The Infanta is tended by two ladies in waiting, one to either side of her, one posed in a curtsey and the other offering her a drink from a red cup. The Infanta and the curtseying woman look out to the audience, drawing them in to the focal point, almost as if there is an expectation from them to join in the formalities. The lady offering the drink, holds her attention to the Infanta, as though she is her sole priority.
To the left of them, is the artist Velázquez, stood at his easel, but rather than reviewing the scene he is apparently painting, he is looking out to the audience, almost questioning the reality that the viewer is seeing, as it puts out a theory that he is potentially painting something out of view – which leads to to the reflection of the King and Queen in a mirror which can be seen in the background, above the Infanta. They appear to be watching the events which are going on in the room. It is said that the King had mentioned that he felt that this scene would be a perfect subject for a painting. In the 17th century, the King’s musings meant that it was to happen, hence this painting was created. The image of them reflected, makes it feel that they are eternally the audience of this scene, forever stood in front of the Infanta, only visible due to the mirror. This helps to make sense of why members of the party are looking out towards the audience, as there were royal viewers surveying the scene.
Just to go back to Velázquez briefly, on his tunic is displayed the red cross of the Order of Santiago, which he didn’t receive until 1659 – three years after the painting was completed. It was ordered that this cross was added to the painting after Velázquez died, and it is thought that the King himself added it to the painting.
To the right of the party are two dwarves, one playfully tries to wake the sleeping mastiff with his foot. Behind them stands doña Marcela de Ulloa, the princess’ chaperone and an unnamed bodyguard, and finally in the doorway right at the back stands José Nieto Velázquez, potentially a relative of the artist, but was also the Queen’s chamberlain at the time. He is stood on the stairs, pushing a curtain to one side, signalling the departure of the Queen, which possibly means that the painting session was coming to a close, hence why one of the ladies in waiting is curtseying.
This scene generally captures the royal party in their day to day activities, but Velázquez throws the look of it by adding in the techniques of the reflective audience and his self portrait. Some experts look at this painting as a view on mortality, as it was painted not long before the artist died, and is felt that he needed to capture himself, in his ranking of court artist so that he could be immortalised along with the others in the scene.
I am sure that you are thinking, well this is all very nice, but come on, get on to Picasso and why football had anything to do with this post.
Well, Picasso created his version of “Las Meninas” in 1957, in fact he created 58 paintings based on the Velázquez original, as he twisted and changed the piece to finally become his own. Here is where the hidden potential lies. Picasso started in just analysis the piece, which he then pushed in to his one cubism style.
Picasso is quoted to have said:-
“If someone want to copy Las Meninas, entirely in good faith, for example, upon reaching a certain point and if that one was me, I would say…what if you put them a little more to the right or left? I’ll try to do it my way, forgetting about Velázquez. The test would surely bring me to modify or change the light because of having changed the position of a character. So, little by little, that would be a detestable Meninas for a traditional painter, but would be my Meninas.”
This was painted twenty years after his painting “Guernica“, but continues the political protest of this earlier painting against the treatment of Spanish Republicans in Spain. At the time he began the series, Picasso was involved in the Amnesty for Spain campaign to free Spanish Republicans still imprisoned eighteen years after the end of the Spanish Civil War.
Picasso transforms the original meaning of the Velázquez into a cruel indictment of Franco’s dictatorship and his royalist aspirations (to be succeeded by a member of the Spanish Monarchy): ceiling adornments become grotesque hooks for the suspension of torture victims, and the painter becomes a figure from the Inquisition. The maid in the foreground has Franco’s moustache. The many variations on the figure of the Infanta make pointed reference to the traditional Royalist ‘coming out’ of Don Juan’s daughter, the Infanta Maria Pilar, that took place in October 1954 at the Hotel Parque in Estoril, Portugal, where a spectacular ball was held.
The colouration of Picasso’s depiction is in keeping with Guernica, keeping a theme of the protest that he presented. Personally I feel that this takes it from a sneak peek into the life of the monarchy to highlighted condemnation, blue bringing the coldness of the present royals actions to the people to the foreground.
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