In Madrid this week, I spent a lot of time looking at Las Meninas. What a friend it became!
A salient feature of art and literature, and a recurring theme in these notes, is the power of ambiguity. The experience of a great work may be due half to the artist, who brings so much to the canvas, and half to the viewer, in whose eye and mind the image resonates. Las Meninas has become my archetypical example of this synergy. Standing in front of it in that great hall of the Prado, I felt that Velazquez and I were working together to create this viewing experience.
It is key that he is looking at us. He’s daring us with the question, what do you think of this? What do you make of the dog, and the dwarf, and the cavernous dark upper half of my painting? Can you imagine the secrets I know of this crazy decadent court of Philip IV?
Yet there is so much Velazquez did not know! He did not know that Britain and its colonies in America would build a new world as Spain declined ever further. He did not know that the infanta Margarita would die at age 21. It may be just my fancy, but I like to think that Velazquez had a sense of the uncertainty of the future and the genius to craft a work that would take strength from that uncertainty.
[3 April 2016]