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Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660)   Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour)  Oil on canvas, 	1656  318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)  Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain
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Title: Las Meninas
Description:
Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660) 
Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour)
Oil on canvas, 1656
318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)
Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain

Las Meninas (Spanish for The Maids of Honour) is a 1656 painting by Diego Velázquez, the leading artist of the Spanish Golden Age, in the Museo del Prado in Madrid. The work's complex and enigmatic composition raises questions about reality and illusion, and creates an uncertain relationship between the viewer and the figures depicted. Because of these complexities, Las Meninas has been one of the most widely analysed works in Western painting.

The painting shows a large room in the Madrid palace of King Philip IV of Spain, and presents several figures, most identifiable from the Spanish court, captured, according to some commentators, in a particular moment as if in a snapshot. Some look out of the canvas towards the viewer, while others interact among themselves. The young Infanta Margarita is surrounded by her entourage of maids of honour, chaperone, bodyguard, two dwarfs and a dog. Just behind them, Velázquez portrays himself working at a large canvas. Velázquez looks outwards, beyond the pictorial space to where a viewer of the painting would stand. A mirror hangs in the background and reflects the upper bodies of the king and queen. The royal couple appear to be placed outside the picture space in a position similar to that of the viewer, although some scholars have speculated that their image is a reflection from the painting Velázquez is shown working on.

Las Meninas has long been recognised as one of the most important paintings in Western art history. The Baroque painter Luca Giordano said that it represents the "theology of painting", while in the 19th century Sir Thomas Lawrence called the work "the philosophy of art". More recently, it has been described as "Velázquez's supreme achievement, a highly self-conscious, calculated demonstration of what painting could achieve, and perhaps the most searching comment ever made on the possibilities of the easel painting".
background
Court of Philip IV
In 17th-century Spain, painters rarely enjoyed high social status. Painting was regarded as a craft, not an art such as poetry or music. Nonetheless, Velázquez worked his way up through the ranks of the court of Philip IV, and in February 1651 was appointed palace chamberlain (aposentador mayor del palacio). The post brought him status and material reward, but its duties made heavy demands on his time. During the remaining eight years of his life, he painted only a few works, mostly portraits of the royal family. When he painted Las Meninas, he had been with the royal household for 33 years.
Philip IV's first wife, Elizabeth of France, died in 1644; and their only son, Baltasar Carlos, died two years later. Lacking an heir, Philip married Mariana of Austria in 1649, and Margarita (1651–1673) was their first child, and their only one at the time of the painting. Subsequently, she had a short-lived brother Felipe Prospero (1657–1661), and then Charles (1661–1700) arrived, who succeeded to the throne as Charles II at the age of four. Velázquez painted portraits of Mariana and her children, and although Philip himself resisted being portrayed in his old age he did allow Velázquez to include him in Las Meninas. In the early 1650s he gave Velázquez the Pieza Principal ("main room") of the late Baltasar Carlos's living quarters, by then serving as the palace museum, to use as his studio. It is here that Las Meninas is set. Philip had his own chair in the studio and would often sit and watch Velázquez at work. Although constrained by rigid etiquette, the art-loving king seems to have had an unusually close relationship with the painter. After Velázquez's death, he wrote "I am crushed" in the margin of a memorandum on the choice of his successor.
During the 1640s and 1650s, Velázquez served as both court painter and curator of Philip IV's expanding collection of European art. He seems to have been given an unusual degree of freedom in the role. He supervised the decoration and interior design of the rooms holding the most valued paintings, adding mirrors, statues and tapestries. He was also responsible for the sourcing, attribution, hanging and inventory of many of the Spanish king's paintings. By the early 1650s, Velázquez was widely respected in Spain as a connoisseur. Much of the collection of the Prado today—including works by Titian, Raphael, and Rubens—was acquired and assembled under Velázquez's curatorship.
Provenance and condition of painting
The painting was referred to in the earliest inventories as La Familia ("The Family"). A detailed description of Las Meninas, which provides the identification of several of the figures, was published by Antonio Palomino ("the Giorgio Vasari of the Spanish Golden Age") in 1724. Examination under infrared light reveals minor pentimenti, that is, there are traces of earlier working that the artist himself later altered. For example, at first Velázquez's own head inclined to his right rather than his left.
The painting has been cut down on both the left and right sides. It was damaged in the fire that destroyed the Alcázar in 1734, and was restored by court painter Juan García de Miranda (1677–1749). The left cheek of the Infanta was almost completely repainted to compensate for a substantial loss of pigment. After its rescue from the fire, the painting was inventoried as part of the royal collection in 1747–48, and the Infanta was misidentified as María Teresa, Margarita's half-sister, an error that was repeated when the painting was inventoried at the new Madrid Royal Palace in 1772. A 1794 inventory reverted to a version of the earlier title, The Family of Philip IV, which was repeated in the records of 1814. The painting entered the collection of the Museo del Prado on its foundation in 1819. In 1843, the Prado catalogue listed the work for the first time as Las Meninas.
In recent years, the picture has suffered a loss of texture and hue. Due to exposure to pollution and crowds of visitors, the once-vivid contrasts between blue and white pigments in the costumes of the meninas have faded. It was last cleaned in 1984 under the supervision of the American conservator John Brealey, to remove a "yellow veil" of dust that had gathered since the previous restoration in the 19th century. The cleaning provoked, according to the art historian Federico Zeri, "furious protests, not because the picture had been damaged in any way, but because it looked different". However, in the opinion of López-Rey, the "restoration was impeccable". Due to its size, importance, and value, the painting is not lent out for exhibition.

Description
Subject matter
Las Meninas is set in Velázquez's studio in Philip IV's Alcázar palace in Madrid. The high-ceilinged room is presented, in the words of Silvio Gaggi, as "a simple box that could be divided into a perspective grid with a single vanishing point". In the centre of the foreground stands the Infanta Margarita . The five-year-old princess, who later married the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, was at this point Philip and Mariana's only surviving child. She is attended by two ladies-in-waiting, or meninas: doña Isabel de Velasco , who is poised to curtsy to the princess, and doña María Agustina Sarmiento de Sotomayor , who kneels before Margarita, offering her a drink from a red cup, or bucaro, that she holds on a golden tray. To the right of the Infanta are two dwarfs: the achonlastic German, Maribarbola  (Maria Barbola), and the Italian, Nicolas Pertusato , who playfully tries to rouse a sleeping mastiff with his foot. Behind them stands doña Marcela de Ulloa , the princess's chaperone, dressed in mourning and talking to an unidentified bodyguard (or guardadamas).
To the rear and at right stands Don José Nieto Velázquez —the queen's chamberlain during the 1650s, and head of the royal tapestry works—who may have been a relative of the artist. Nieto is shown pausing, with his right knee bent and his feet on different steps. As the art critic Harriet Stone observes, it is uncertain whether he is "coming or going". He is rendered in silhouette and appears to hold open a curtain on a short flight of stairs, with an unclear wall or space behind. Both this backlight and the open doorway reveal space behind: in the words of the art historian Analisa Leppanen, they lure "our eyes inescapably into the depths". The royal couple's reflection pushes in the opposite direction, forward into the picture space. The vanishing point of the perspective is in the doorway, as can be shown by extending the line of the meeting of wall and ceiling on the right. Nieto is seen only by the king and queen, who share the viewer's point of view, and not by the figures in the foreground. In the footnotes of Joel Snyder's article, the author recognizes that Nieto is the queen's attendant and was required to be at hand to open and close doors for her. Snyder suggests that Nieto appears in the doorway so that the king and queen might depart. In the context of the painting, Snyder argues that the scene is the end of the royal couple's sitting for Velazquez and they are preparing to exit, explaining that is "why the menina to the right of the Infanta begins to curtsy" 
Velázquez himself  is pictured to the left of the scene, looking outward past a large canvas supported by an easel. On his chest is the red cross of the Order of Santiago, which he did not receive until 1659, three years after the painting was completed. According to Palomino, Philip ordered this to be added after Velázquez's death, "and some say that his Majesty himself painted it". From the painter's belt hang the symbolic keys of his court offices.
A mirror on the back wall reflects the upper bodies and heads of two figures identified from other paintings, and by Palomino, as King Philip IV (1 and his queen, Mariana ). The most common assumption is that the reflection shows the couple in the pose they are holding for Velázquez as he paints them, while their daughter watches; and that the painting therefore shows their view of the scene.
To the rear and at right stands Don José Nieto Velázquez —the queen's chamberlain during the 1650s, and head of the royal tapestry works—who may have been a relative of the artist. Nieto is shown pausing, with his right knee bent and his feet on different steps. As the art critic Harriet Stone observes, it is uncertain whether he is "coming or going". He is rendered in silhouette and appears to hold open a curtain on a short flight of stairs, with an unclear wall or space behind. Both this backlight and the open doorway reveal space behind: in the words of the art historian Analisa Leppanen, they lure "our eyes inescapably into the depths". The royal couple's reflection pushes in the opposite direction, forward into the picture space. The vanishing point of the perspective is in the doorway, as can be shown by extending the line of the meeting of wall and ceiling on the right. Nieto is seen only by the king and queen, who share the viewer's point of view, and not by the figures in the foreground. In the footnotes of Joel Snyder's article, the author recognizes that Nieto is the queen's attendant and was required to be at hand to open and close doors for her. Snyder suggests that Nieto appears in the doorway so that the king and queen might depart. In the context of the painting, Snyder argues that the scene is the end of the royal couple's sitting for Velazquez and they are preparing to exit, explaining that is "why the menina to the right of the Infanta begins to curtsy".
Velázquez himself is pictured to the left of the scene, looking outward past a large canvas supported by an easel. On his chest is the red cross of the Order of Santiago, which he did not receive until 1659, three years after the painting was completed. According to Palomino, Philip ordered this to be added after Velázquez's death, "and some say that his Majesty himself painted it". From the painter's belt hang the symbolic keys of his court offices.

A mirror on the back wall reflects the upper bodies and heads of two figures identified from other paintings, and by Palomino, as King Philip IV and his queen, Mariana. The most common assumption is that the reflection shows the couple in the pose they are holding for Velázquez as he paints them, while their daughter watches; and that the painting therefore shows their view of the scene.


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Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660)   Las Meninas (The Maids of Honour)  Oil on canvas, 	1656  318 cm × 276 cm (125.2 in × 108.7 in)  Museo del Prado, Madrid, SpainDiego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (1599 – 1660)   Portrait of Innocent X  Oil on canvas, 	c. 1650  114 cm × 119 cm (45 in × 47 in)  Galleria Doria Pamphili, Rome, Italy
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