Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?

Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?


[Music] There’s maybe no painting in the history of the form more worthy of analysis than Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. What we’re talking about here is a masterwork by an artist late in his life, but at the height of his powers, determined to drive into this canvas the sum total of his talent, his experience, and his intellect. Velazquez had been, by then, a court painter for the Spanish King Philip IV for over thirty years. Indeed, he was a favorite of Phillip’s, painting his portrait many times and advancing in salary and rank all the way up to Chamberlain of the palace, responsible for decorating this great Alcazar of Madrid with all its many artworks. So it’s no surprise that for his masterpiece Velazquez sets his painting in the palace itself, the place he knew best. Specifically, in his own studio, adorned with paintings that he himself chose. Now, they’re a little bit hard to see, but we know what they are based on histories of the space and it’s no accident that he chooses these paintings specifically. But we’ll get to that a bit later. First, let’s take a look at the main action of the scene: So much hits you right away. Maybe the first thing you see is the little girl, Margaret Theresa. The, then, only living child of the king. Or, maybe you see that mirror showing reflected images of the king and queen themselves. Or maybe the first thing that stands out to you is that 6 of the 9 characters represented here are staring beyond the picture plane. Which is to say, at you. That fact alone gives this image its great sense of spontaneity as if it were a snapshot. Velasquez captures the moment just when several of these figures are noticing something. Some, like these three, have yet to notice it In the case of the little princess all that’s moved, so far, is her eyes. But, though the moment depicted is spontaneous, the composition of the subjects is anything but. You have here a real clinic in composing group scenes. What Velasquez has done in this group of eleven, including the mirror-images of the king and queen, is arranged an extraordinary number of links and contrasts that slides your eyes back and forth across the canvas. The first thing to notice, perhaps, is the obsession here with grouping two’s and three’s. Everyone here but the princess can be split into pairs. The male and female dwarf, the two chaperones here, the curtsying maid and the palace official in the back corridor, the king and the queen in the mirror, and Velasquez and the maid kneeling to offer the princess a drink. Notice also that these are all male-female pairs. And these pairing accentuate the princess as the focus of the scene. But you could also split the group up into threes. The princess with her two maids, the dog and the two dwarfs and the two palace officials with what now occurs to us are mirrored couples. See also that these two groups of three, internally made up of doubles and triples, are all on the same horizontal plane. This group of six also draws the entirety of the painting’s three dimensional space. Our eye is drawn from Velasquez in the foreground to the palace official in the distance, as they’re wearing similar black garb and stand in line with the two doorways on the back walls. The chaperones in the middle ground link to the king and queen in the background, which simultaneously brings the z-axis all the way forward beyond the picture itself, intimating a depth that we can’t even see. It’s amazing. What you might not have realized is that this motif of twos and threes has already been established in the frames on the back wall, with two giant canvases over top two door frames and the central mirror. Of that bottom triple, the right sides of the frames correspond with the princess and her two maids, moving the eyes naturally from the king and queen to their daughter. But the eyes are also drawn from the mirror to the right, that lighted passage framing the palace official. This space of this lighted rectangle is equal to that of the mirror and they’re put on the same horizontal plane as well. Indeed, because of its brightness, like the brightness of the little princess bathed in light, we’re drawn to it just as much as the other two. In these three elements of Las Meninas, we have three central focus points. Unlike Da Vinci’s Last Supper for example, where all elements in the painting point toward Jesus Christ, Las Meninas is more ambiguous, letting the viewer vacillate between multiple centers of weight. Being a court painter for the royal family, it’s obvious why Velasquez would want to highlight the royal couple and their daughter. But what’s significant about the back hallway? Well, this gets at a long running debate about the significance of this mirror. What exactly is it reflecting? A number of critics have seen it as the reflection of the actual king and queen standing, like we said, beyond the picture plane, putting the viewer literally in the shoes of royalty. But a closer examination of the one point perspective of this image reveals something else. The vanishing point of Las Meninas is not here, but here, in the lighted doorway to the right. What does this mean? Well, it means that the eye of this painting, so to speak, isn’t opposite the mirror, but opposite the door. So the mirror doesn’t reflect directly back at us. It reflects at an angle. An angle that puts its image on another unseen aspect of Las Meninas: The canvas that Velasquez is working on. Now, for a moment, let’s get back to the paintings in the upper half of this picture. These are copies of two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, a hero of Velasquez. And they tell similar stories, in this case, both from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In the right, the mortal Marsyas challenges the god Apollo to a flute playing contest. In the left, the god Athena challenges the mortal Arachne to a weaving contest. On other words, these are two contests between mortals and gods on the subject of the arts. Now, Marsyas loses and Arachne wins, but both are punished by their gods in the end for failing to recognize the divine source of the artistic endeavor. Such stories are extremely relevant to Las Meninas because in the end, this is a painting about painting, itself. In Velasquez’s time, painting still didn’t hold the same kind of noble place as poetry and music. Las Meninas, in all its splendid effects, is a vigorous argument for the virtue of painting, whether it comes from the heavens or the lifelong practice of craft. And this gets at the heart of the mirror, the vanishing point and the multiple centers of focus. “See what my art can do,” Velasquez is saying to the viewer. And to his king and queen, “Look not to nature or your own reflection in the mirror for the most marvelous depiction of your image, but to my canvas.” Las Meninas is an extraordinary accomplishment for its time. But its effect is timeless. It’s said that King Philip IV often came to Velasquez’s studio just to watch him paint. Somehow, I think Las Meninas animated his consciousness as it does mine, 360 years later. Indeed, to stare at this painting, in any age, is to be convinced slowly, gradually, and then confidently that you are witnessing the very best this medium has to offer. [Music] Hey everybody, thanks for watching an thank you to Squarespace for sponsoring this video. Just amazing, like those of you who pledge on Patreon, Squarespace is helping to fund this project, keep it going and they don’t interfere in the content, which is awesome. And their product is actually really great. Sleek, intuitive professional looking websites. You don’t have to know coding to make it happen. I’m working on something for the Nerdwriter right now, which I think is going to be pretty cool. And if you sign up for a year, you can get a free domain name an if you go to squarespace.com and use the offer code “Nerdwriter”, you can get 10% off your first purchase. So that’s pretty awesome. You can find a link to all that stuff in the description below. Thank you guys for that. And if you want to pledge to the project directly, you can obviously go to my Patreon by clicking right below this. Thank you guys so much and I will see you next Wednesday. Squarespace: You should.

100 Comments

  • scorpioninpink says:

    For me, the best painting in History is Guernica.

  • B G says:

    Stand well back from this painting, look at it through your rolled up catalogue and you see it in perfect 3D.

  • Abilio Rodrigues says:

    Man start drinking water.
    Wtf.

  • G. Confa says:

    Dios mío repitiendo esa boludez de trap una y otra vez. La puta madre no tienen cultura general sólo música basura en el cerebro?

  • Raw Key says:

    Saw this in Madrid 3 years ago and i felt so small after looking at my art 🎨😂

  • Narasimha Raju says:

    i can interpret much from my kid's painting also….

  • Hope Tikvah says:

    Athena isn't a god, she's a goddess

  • Kelby Hinton says:

    It's a solid meh. best painting? lol clickbait

  • A random gUy says:

    no

  • mark hughes says:

    Velasquez – the painters’ painter.

  • mark hughes says:

    Dog – Saturnine – Hmm
    Red-cross motif – Hmm
    Twelve figures in relation to an absent one? – Hmm
    Three nenufars
    Three and two in the composition of the door.
    Red and white – wine and bread
    Life…….and Afterlife beyond the stairs?

  • Mar Gé van der Zwan says:

    Another theory: the viewer is standing in de shoes of the king and queen. Velasquez is painting a painting of the king and queen as seen in the mirror. This means that the king and queen are standing from the viewers viewpoint. As is also seen because of the direction velasquez and the princess are looking in. The painting is about the king and queen who see the painting of themselves in the mirror while velasquez is painting them and while the court is watching them being painted.

  • Lawrence Parkes says:

    *12

  • David Andersen says:

    Best ever is completely subjective.

  • TheWatchernator says:

    I thought Onement Vi by Barnett Newman was pretty good too. If you understand the deeper meaning and the themes of the painting and realize in what time they were made, it puts the painting in a whole new dimension of a perspective, something the mind can almost not reprehend. The vastness of it just grabs you but letting your boundless fantasies run anyway it wants because there is no reference point in the painting to hold on to.
    It does something that portrait paintings can not do; it blends the surreal with the real.

  • Tomoko in 4k says:

    I took a picture of this yesterday and this came in my recommendation…

  • NewsFromNY says:

    The first time I saw it in real life i was 7 years old. My mom always tells the story that I sat on the floor and stayed there for 35 min. I wouldn't want to leave and my mom didn't want to make me because she saw how fascinated I was with it. It's truly a master piece.

  • tontogonzales says:

    Michel Foucault begins his The order of things, with a sublime analysis of this painting.

  • grucko gryffins says:

    i go back to this video every year just to check if i have understood it in a totally different way

  • Red Pilled Artist says:

    Fabulous!

  • Dante HLM says:

    This is just too good, wtf

  • Alli YAFF says:

    I think some of what you said was a stretch but I like a lot of what you said.

  • Biz Smith says:

    It's a painting of royalty where the artist has decided to include himself as royalty

  • rockshot100 says:

    OK, so the only thing I can see that is news is that this painting is about painting portraits. The rest of it, Meh…..As a schooled artist I have heard this painting dissected many times.
    It is a painting that I could stare at every day. "Salvador Mundi", Da Vinci, is another one I could look at every day. MY eyes, at least, keep jumping to three things. That is how I would define as 'masterpiece', ya can't stop looking at it!
    I would love to hear what Nerdwriter has to say about Banksy, a completely different kind of artist.

  • Celestial vision says:

    I disagree. The best painting has to offer, man has yet to receive.

    The painting is good… but…. don't overthink it. 😅

  • Viejotrueno says:

    Velazquez is the greatest painter ever

  • Jenna G. says:

    Peter Draws once said that people try to read too much into the meanings of paintings. but until we get a signed letter from the artist telling us the meaning, there doesnt have to be a meaning and no one can say for sure anyway so there.

  • 2335467 says:

    i disagree, I always hated this picture.

  • RevolutionUtena says:

    Isn't there also speculation (or perhaps stronger than speculation) that Las Meninas was heavily influenced by Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait?

  • Alfonso Sosa says:

    I went to the Prado Museum today… I stood 3 feet away from this masterpiece. It was unforgettable. I needed to come watch this again and thank you for such an amazing case study.

  • Dave Dogge says:

    Velazquez invented the first person main character in video games. the paiinting is through the eyes of the king of spain

  • Slaphappy Duplenty says:

    This analysis is like watching The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, only more paranoid.

  • flewggle says:

    Uh huh. I think he went a lil crazy painting the underbite on the dwarf chick to the right.

  • HigherPlanes says:

    There is no such thing as the best painting in the world.

  • PukkarPukkar says:

    You at 3:51: „What you might not have realized…

    me: I HAVEN'T EVEN REALIZED WHAT YOU SAID UP UNTIL THIS POINT EVEN NOW THAT YOU SAID IT

  • barca10108 says:

    Although I respect your analysis and I myself agree with most of your points. I feel as if you were reaching, you were just looking and finding. And I say this from experience. I myself paint and no I’m not a master but when people analyze my work they reach and find things to explain just for the sake of it. I guess it’s art and we all see what we see. Artist are born with this knowledge, sometimes we do things just because it looks right and someone like you say it’s because we wanted to. Idk

  • william badovinac says:

    A really dumb title to attract small minds.

  • Ankle Donna says:

    When someone innately understands perspective, focus, color, light, balance, etc., they see and experience the world around them very differently than others. That is what makes them good painters, photographers, movie directors, set designers, clothing designers, and all the other arts that use light and form to express what others cannot.

  • no one's Boss says:

    He must have used photoshop

  • Tafutokuta says:

    Man from 2016 Over-analyzing this painting.
    Diego: Tf, i was just painting what I saw

  • aaron garrett says:

    Oh good lord… pairs of twos or threes? Who the hell cares, man. Seriously reaching so hard. It’s a gorgeous painting. I can’t even listen anymore. 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

  • Lu Carnaf says:

    What is the name of the font in the begining?

  • CAP RICOSM says:

    This is a masterpiece , whether you like it or not. Valesquez is brilliant.

  • Astor saldana says:

    I don’t think so that is the best oil painting in history I know Lot better

  • James Potts says:

    I've recently discovered "Nerd Writer", so I wanted to spend a few moments as well as words thanking you for the segments revelling facts upon many of the finest paintings in history, along with their creators. Being an aspiring writer, I'm wanting to absorb as much information as possible in the most condensed amount of time as to what most sources will allow, also there's the massive amount of enjoyment watching your videos. Excellent and by far one of my favorites to view combined with the educational aspects of watching makes me a dedicated "Nerd Writer Watcher!"

  • Lyle A says:

    They're called "little people."

  • Frogglet Legs says:

    They look like titans from the animé to me

  • me nkat says:

    Sorry fell asleep!

  • shrimpfried rice says:

    no

  • Terry Bromley says:

    Terry F Bromley, Now the painting is so much more interesting!

  • Hazzard0 says:

    My brain hurts

  • Bic Boi says:

    Lmfao this dude is getting in waaay too fucking deep. It's just a painting and a very good one at that, half of the shit you just analysed is likely what the artist never even thought about at the time.

  • doublescoop says:

    Just discovered this channel. I feel like this explanation made the painting come alive for me. Thank you.

  • Andrew plack says:

    Oh please. Such hype. There can be no best anything. And even at that… I doubt a chimp picks this out of a lineup. Regurgitated concepts is not genuine observation.

  • Alex Vargas says:

    I've seen it in person and IMHO the observer is in the exact same position as the royal couple was back in the original scene. What you seen in the mirror is what Velázquez is painting and to be able to paint he is looking at… you? No, he is looking at his models, the king and the queen… as the princess and other four characters. So you are seeing the scene as the royal couple have seen it back then. You are THE KING or THE QUEEN, you are the most important character of that master piece, if you take a step to the left you can see yourself in the mirror

  • navidski says:

    And there I was thinking this is just a painting about a doggy.

  • bonkybonk _ow says:

    dude chill the fuck out it's just a painting. this analysis makes no sense btw

  • Hans Jürgen Ochsenfahrt says:

    Nonsense.. Too much marketplace and sensationalism in it.

    Yes.. Debates, interests brings it to life.. Reception always changes..

  • Epicvampire800 says:

    Maybe i'm dumb but i dont like this painting and could barely tell what was going on in it

  • Gerhard moeller says:

    Very nice, informative video. I liked and subscribed my new friend. I have a lot to learn…. But I'm retired….and have the rest of my life to learn to appreciate great art. You will help me with that….thank you!

  • Oscar Padilla says:

    Amazing analysis, thank you (great channel as well)!

  • Louis C. Gasper says:

    On Velasquez' breast is the cross of St James, which was worn only by nobility. It is thought that of course Velaxquez would not dare paint that on himself, but that the king ordered it added to the painting after the death of Velasquez as a tribute to him.

    When I was at El Prado, many years ago, a mirror was arranged so that the painting, which is in its own room, could be viewed as a mirror image. For some reason, this gives the painting more "air," so that it seems even more real.

  • Charles Miller says:

    Bravo!

  • sasamykolors says:

    But what if it’s not a mirror ?

  • Maikel Kay says:

    Excellent, very perceptive analysis. I couldn't understand before why this painting is so praised. Now I'm beginning to see.

  • tomroberts101 says:

    What about the dawg though? 😉

  • kunal dhadse says:

    Maybe the Artist is Painting the Las Maninas and everyone is looking into a Giant Mirror so that the artist can draw himself drawing Las Maninas in Las Maninas.

  • Anarchy Ducky says:

    these faces look like royal incest blood line faces.. you know the ones ruling our world for ages and ages.. 🙂

  • William Kaiser says:

    Your reading to much into the painting!

  • Sandy of Cthulhu says:

    short answer: "No."

  • Pat Powers says:

    I knew the answer to the question in the headline would be "No" as soon as I saw the question: it's remarkably stupid. I just wanted to see what ludicrous argument would be used to support the conclusion that it's the best painting ever. All Nerdwriter did was sidestep the issue by simply analyzing the painting. "Las Meninas" is a good painting though.

  • n w says:

    this dude cannot even fit the entire painting in the frame of his video, showing a horizontally cropped version, and he wants to talk about composition and attention to detail? lol as for the absurd title, such arrogance and snobbery. Art is subjective, many find this painting cluttered and overtly staged. so what, just enjoy and stop the childish ranking of things.

  • Galileosays says:

    It was a pleasure to be guided through Velazquez painting. Nice connection with Leonardo's work, the inventor of perspective in paintings, and the works of Rubens.

  • Leonardo Dalcomuni says:

    Is the "male dwarf" really a dwarf or just a male child?

  • Rheba says:

    6:23 'a weaving contest' while showing a man lunging at her

  • MiniatureMasterClass says:

    What a bunch of snobby art gallery horseshit.

  • ProksenosPapias says:

    Dog is disgusted with us 🙁

  • clarkewi says:

    A true masterpiece.

  • Truth Eternal says:

    Interesting:)

  • Tsetsi says:

    Valasquez was and is a genious

  • gregory hoover says:

    Over analyzed

  • John Stewart says:

    What about the dog??

  • Mason Valenzuela says:

    Well that was a waste of 9 minutes.

  • Marko Sunjka says:

    Writer: "It started to snow and thus I was quite cold that night."
    This guy: The artist was quite alone, he insinuates that he a rather lonely fellow, a beta if you will. This has lead us to believe that he was ugly.
    Writer: Ni🐒🐒a, it was snowing.

    I think that this guy sees a lot of what he wants to see.

  • Chris Boston says:

    This is a very thoughtful and instructive analysis but Nerdwriter fails to mention the true magic of this canvas. When you see it from a distance, it almost looks photorealistic. But when you get up close to it, you discover that the painting is constructed of almost abstract slashes and dabs of paint. Velasquez's genius was to realize that he merely needed to suggest the details of reality and that at a distance our eyes would see this approximation, this shorthand, as reality itself. Pure genius!

  • FANCY G-P says:

    All I know is they had very bad hair maintenance

  • FANCY G-P says:

    All I see is the guy at the back

  • jjlumine says:

    i LOVE DIEGO ELAZQUEZ

  • David Bourne says:

    Jesus…the shit people talk about these old boring paintings is more impressive than the actual image.

  • gmrb79s says:

    yes, and the dog is looking at a cockroach…yay.fuckyou

  • demarchiordie says:

    Isn't "the mirror" just a painting of the Queen and King?

  • Borsu says:

    @:43 you are a shill for mark zuckerbird more on moron. predictive programming. dude shut the shill up looser.

  • Niccolo Aurelius says:

    …no.

  • Jest Passinthru says:

    I think the mirror is reflecting the painting on the canvas. .
    The king and queen have entered the room as shown by the looks and maid curtsy. . It all works as a spiral.

  • Amanda Kay Howell says:

    You really believe the guy did all of this math to paint this? Ha! Can you see it… "could you go out and grab a servant cause I have to have 12 subjects and I only got 11!" 😂

  • Catalina Long says:

    I wanted to comment, but nothing I could say could top what Paul Staker ( comment below) had to say.Best comment ever…..Lmao.

  • Grace Ll says:

    You know the door and mirror also look like eyes.

  • emily schwellenbach says:

    You didnt make any mention of the dog, thats true. I always wondered what made me like this picture so much, now I know, it plays with my eyes and brain.

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