The painter Velázquez is known to have worked with ‘an instant photographic effect’. He also used the bird’s eye perspective, which allowed him to pass by the usual geometrical aids of his times.
He discovered that the human eye observes an object in its sharp contours only at the very center of vision, while allowing objects in the periphery to fade. He may have been the first, at least one of the earliest explorers of what later came to be known as Gestalt perception. In some of his paintings he uses this knowledge immediately, the representation growing fainter from the center outwards.
In his master piece Las Meninas, painted in 1665, he made use of these various insights and techniques, now in a different manner. Famous Foucault commented on it, the philosopher whose disciplinary panopticon scheme I tested in my PhD as to its applicability to factory discipline in the 19th century – with negative results.
In the background of Las Meninas – the maids of honour – a mirror reflects the upper body parts of King and Queen. They appear to be placed outside its pictorial 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 to work on.
Was it the painter’s desire to place these high figures at the very centre of his picture? Or was he – in his inner mind – an anarchist, deferring them into the wings, being only indirectly visible and thus more absent than less?
Never bite the hand that feeds you. So, perhaps it was diffidence of the royal family house painter. On the other hand, Velázquez’ portraits are brutally correct in depicting a person’s ugliness of his plain aspects.
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