The English translation of Las Meninas is Maids of Honor. The central figure is the young daughter of the king and Queen of Spain and is surrounded by her maids in waiting. This painting is remarkable for its collection of subjects a number of whom are looking out toward the viewer due to the position of the King and Queen. It is also remarkable for the number of people gathered round to witness the portrait being taken of the Princess, the Infanta Margarita. While the painting is a study in spontaneity--Margarita is being spoken to and catered to, the nurse maids are in the background (probably worrying), a spectator stands in a half-leaving position on the stairs, a reflection of the King and Queen keeps vigil behind the painter, a dog ignores the painter and the boy's foot poking him--it is also a highly crafted and exquisitely detailed painting. Velasquez is heralded for his precise technique and for the "snap-shot" quality of his painting.
This is one of the most powerful elements of the portrait. Velasquez is painting a painter who is painting these dolls. This only begins the complexity of the artwork. The fact that a mirror is the in background, reflecting even more to the portrait reveals that the painter might be studying this, as well, along with the person in the background, who appears to be interrupting this artistic moment. The idea of subject and object is challenged in the portrait because the painter is looking directly at the viewer, indicating that the viewer might actually be a part of the artistic canvass in front of him. This means that we, as the viewer, might actually be a part of what is happening. The implications of this are profound. Velazquez might be suggesting that there is no such thing as pure objectivity and that bias and personal approach is inherent in all endeavors. At the same time, there is an element of reflection and ambiguity that is present in the portrait that helps to bring out this idea of bias creeping into that which was perceived to be absolute. In his work, The Buried Mirror, Carlos Fuentes explores how Velazquez’s portrait could be a metaphor in analyzing the history of Spain during the Golden Age and his analysis brings out much in way of assessing the value of the art sample.