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.

Sierksma 15.12.15
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Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

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