He was born in Seville on June 6, 1599. Coming from a Seville bourgeois family, he was the eldest of six siblings. Between 1611 and 1617 the young Velázquez worked as an apprentice in the workshop of what would become his future father-in-law, Francisco Pacheco, Mannerist painter and author of an important treatise entitled The Art of Painting (1649). During his years of apprenticeship, Velázquez learned the tenebrist naturalism prevailing in his time, derived from Italian and Flemish realism.
Velázquez is a genius of painting, not only of the seventeenth century, but of all time. He entered the service of the king, as chamber usher in 1627 and later became one of the trusted persons, rising and holding different positions.
One of his most famous paintings is that of Las Meninas, which since it was completed in 1656, until today, has been one of the most controversial paintings in the history of painting, in it we can find a large number of unsolved enigmas , all of them raised by various authors who have tried to give the painting a solution.
The title of the painting, as we know it today, was not given until 1843 and the person responsible was Pedro de Madrazo, when the Prado Museum catalog was made. In 1666 this work was referred to as The Empress with her ladies and a dwarf. Twenty years later another title is found, Portrait of the Empress, Infanta of Spain, with her Ladies and Servants, and a Dwarf, and "original by Diego Velázquez, chamber painter and chamberlain of the palace where he portrayed himself painting" is added.
In 1734 it is mentioned as The Family of King Felipe IV. This same year the Alcázar suffers a fire and the painting is saved; Although it suffered some damage, it could be restored thanks to Juan García de Miranda.
For the analysis of this work, we must begin with the main known source, Antonio Palomino, who in 1724 managed to identify almost all the characters in the painting, and for this he based data such as the age of the Infanta Doña Margarita de Austria (about five years), or the death of Don Diego Velázquez in 1660. Palomino arrived at court 18 years after the painter died, and this suggests that he may have had contact with some of the protagonists of the work. He also had two other sources, Juan Carreño de Mirando, a painter who collaborated with Velázquez and Juan Alfaro, who worked in the magnificent painter's workshop.
Palomino's text, in the book El Museo Pictorico y Escala Óptica (1729) and more precisely in the part entitled “Lives”, refers to a detailed and concrete description of the identification and arrangement of the characters, the recognition of the room and the paintings in it, as well as the date of completion of the work.
As for the space that tried plasmas, we know from real documents that there was a room similar to the one that Velázquez painted for the painting, Brown refers to it, it was an elongated room in which there were a large number of openings and a series of works from other authors. This is reflected in Las Meninas, but according to the documents, the room was larger, which suggests that the author left a space in the room unpainted, which is perhaps the space where the viewer is located.
As for the characters, Doña Margarita de Austria, appears in the center of the composition surrounded by a series of characters: the menina Doña María Agustina de Sarmiento and Doña Isabel de Velasco, menina located on the other side in a position to speak. To the right of the painting there is a lying dog and two characters whose role in court was to entertain, María Bárbola and Nicolás Pertusato.
In the background and with lower intensity lighting, three other characters, Doña Marcela de Ulloa and a guardian on the right with whom she is speaking and on the left, according to Palomino, Velázquez painting himself. At the bottom of the painting, on the right, stands José Nieto, the queen's chamberlain at an open door.
Palomino gives us a description, but a large number of interpretations and enigmas arise, such as when the scene turns, the purpose of the painting, what is reflected in the mirror in the background… We cannot know the truth in its entirety, but we can get closer.
In the case of the painter's self-portrait, it leads to the realization of a small study, it is important from the point of view between the artist and the patron, thus the consideration of the painter as an artist and not as a craftsman, and Velázquez tried to immortalize himself . But this which Palomino assures, is perhaps a desire to give a noble character to the painting.
There are also many opinions about what Velázquez is painting within the work, and a widespread opinion is that he paints what is being reflected in a large mirror in front of him, but this opinion can be eliminated, since the artist holds the brush with the right hand and there are no inverted elements.
Other opinions say that it paints the infanta and the meninas, or perhaps that the kings are the models, but there is no documentation that confirms any of the theories.
Some say that what the mirror in the background reflects is the image of the kings who are on the other side of the painting, where the viewer would be, and therefore the artist would be working on the kings.
Perhaps the fault lies in the fact that many people, including myself, believed that the mirror in the background was not such, but a painting of the kings, but now that data introduces a great controversy. If it were a painting, the image of the kings should be somewhat smaller and if it were a mirror, they receive more light than they should. On the other hand, no portrait of the kings like this supposed painting has been found, it is true that it could have been lost.
Palomino's opinion is that that contradictory element is a mirror and that it reflects the theme that Velázquez paints on the canvas and that we do not see, that is, the kings who are posing for the painter. The kings would therefore be placed in the place of the viewer when looking at the painting. This opinion is widespread today, but if it were totally true, we would have to forget about the study of perspective. Although it is true that in Velázquez's time perspective did not fulfill a didactic function and was used to create appearances, in that case the painting would be well exposed.
The answer is complex and there is no documentation, so whatever the truth, Velázquez wanted to introduce the kings into the work and make them stand out in some way and he succeeded.
Of course, this was not the case and many scholars have tried and continue to try to solve certain enigmas. In the case of Michael Foucault, he gave a detailed description of what was seen in the painting, and tried to create a relationship between the characters in the scene and the viewer.
But not everyone has given it so much importance, there are certain people who do not believe that the work is so transcendental in terms of when it was painted or when it was painted, as is the case of C. Justi or the opinion of Snyder, for which The work is extraordinary, but not because it reflects an inconsequential moment, but because of the quality of the work that makes the public feel attracted to it.
There is also a character who breaks with the most common interpretations and considers Las Meninas as a masterpiece from the intellectual point of view as well as the technique used, and that is Tolnay. This arrives at a main idea, the triumph of art over craftsmanship. Also, he is not the only one, others share his same ideas, like Emmers.
Others like Brown, want to find in the work the triumph of painting, therefore it would be a more intellectual theory and contrary to those who think that the painting is nothing more than a simple snapshot. According to Brown, by representing Velázquez in the same painting as the king, he has tried to defend the nobility of painting, painting as liberal art.
A review of what is known about Las Meninas and the different opinions known regarding the work, is what Enriqueta Harris does. This gives a personal opinion that the painting had a political purpose and doubts that the kings were portrayed, as no similar painting was found.
These are a minimal example of the interpretations given to this work and it would be impossible to cover them all. The answer was at the time, in a given society and by many interpretations that are given, the absolute reality will never be known.
In addition to the enigmas of the painting, it should be said that it is a masterpiece from all points of view, perspective, color, light, composition ... This work has even been the center of attention for illustrious artists such as Goya or Picasso who returned to retake the theme of the work.