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Las Meninas

One of the most influential paintings of the Baroque period was Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez. The painting oil on canvas and is huge, measuring 125 ¼ x 108 5/8 cm. That is roughly 10 ½ x 9 feet. Perhaps it is its size that helps lend the work to such close study but be that as it may, the technique and message of Las Meninas has been controversial for centuries. Las Meninas itself translates as "The Maids of Honor" and the painting is set in Velazquez's actual studio. Part of the uniqueness of the work is that it is a painting within a painting. In the background there is a chamberlain of the queen and a mirror which reflects the King and Queen, implicating them as the subjects of the painting that Velazquez is working on in the painting. The perspective of the painting is particularly noteworthy, as its dimensions give it a subject within the an overall theme that exists outside of what would be the focal point of the painting.

Las Meninas

At the time of the painting of Las Meninas, Velazquez was working for the Spanish Royal Court. Due to this, his work also included a wide scope of subjects. Velazquez’ bodegones, which depict ordinary people eating and drinking, are further examples of the Baroque tendency to represent ordinary beings and his "The Water Carrier of Seville" is an extraordinary depiction of a commoner who possesses a kind of monumental dignity. The man’s rugged, worn face, his huge hands, his torn cloak give us a sense of stature and seriousness that a Renaissance depiction of a commoner would not normally have. Velazquez’ bodegones are related in subject matter to Dutch breakfast paintings.

The works of Baroque artists Velazquez's clearly served a dual purpose – to achieve aesthetic mastery and to help propagate the ideals and belief system of King and Queen that commissioned him. These aims became so deeply insinuated into the artwork that was commissioned that it is difficult to extract meaning from artistic style. In this way, the Counter-Reformation achieved great success in its effort to recapture the minds of contemporary man. By creating great art that was imbued with deep political meaning, the Baroque movement became inextricable from its hidden origins.

The notion of what the term “Baroque Art” means is one that has been the subject of great debate among critics historically. The conflicting views generally describe Baroque Art as a response to the Renaissance, yet what this response is has been greatly scrutinized. In many ways, the movement can be seen as a response to the decadence of Renaissance art. Central to this stylistic change is an emotional infusion into the art, contrasting the more controlled style of the Renaissance. In the way that Baroque Art also departed from Renaissance usage of Classical themes and settings to using a contemporary naturalistic one, it also became a means for creating political consolidation. The search for understanding of the nature of the modern individual, therefore, becomes of greater importance than the reproduction of classical styles and themes, as is the case with the aim of Renaissance art.

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