Las meninas: Examining Velasquez's enigmatic painting

Journal of Consciousness Studies 15 (9):51-57 (2008)
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Abstract

Painted in 1656 by Diego Velasquez (1599-1660), Las Meninas has engendered countless philosophical commentaries. Artists, too, have explored the painting's puzzles and paradoxes. All of the responses to this masterpiece, now over 350 years old, show that Las Meninas continues to live with us on several levels. Indeed, Las Meninas is one of the most controversial paintings of our time (Brown and Garrido, 1998, p. 181); no small feat given that cutting-edge art today is often media-based and/or media-driven. The wealth of controversy has generated so much material since the work's conception that James Elkins, in his book Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles, characterized Las Meninas as an artwork that has become monstrous. According to Elkins, it has effectively outgrown the discipline of art history. Like the frescos in the Brancacci Chapel, the Mona Lisa, Raphael's School of Athens and the Oath of Horatio by David, the scholarship surrounding Las Meninas is so vast that no single thinker or volume can present it fully; it is not even possible to teach these works in a yearlong seminar (Elkins, 1999). While I am among those captivated by the painting, I am also aware of how little a short essay can accomplish. Nevertheless, I do hope to convey why this immense canvas continues to inspire people creatively, intellectually, and passionately. In terms of consciousness, my comments are intended to weave the physicality of the work with epistemological interpretations and empirical investigations so that its mutability is more present in our consciousness discourse.

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