Why is Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas considered a step forward in the modernization of the point of view? And why is it important?

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Velasquez's Las Meninas or The Ladies in Waiting is a complex painting that captures a busy slice of life in the royal court of Spain in 1656. It is considered a step forward in the modernization of point of view primarily because of the reflection of the king and queen, King Philip IV and Queen Mariana, in the mirror on the wall. This is because it is not clear what exactly is being reflected. The reflection is ambiguous and open to interpretation.

First, it may be that the king and queen seen in the mirror are a reflection of the painting Velasquez is working on in the lefthand corner of the canvas. We only see the back of the painting and Velasquez holding a paint brush, so we do not know what he is painting.

While it is possible the mirror reflects the painting, since the 1880s the question has been raised as to whether the mirror reflects the king and queen actually entering the room to observe Velasquez painting their daughter, the Infanta Margaret Theresa, who is illuminated and placed as one of the focal points of the painting.

If the king and queen are reflected in the mirror entering the room, that puts them in the same position, watching from the same point-of-view, as we the spectator. This is modern, first, because it puts the monarchs in the same position and on the same level as the viewer, implying they are no different from us, even if they are royals. Second, there is a certain uncertainty and ambiguity about the perspective. Is what is being reflected in the mirror Velasquez's painting of the monarchs, or is it the king and queen entering the room? This lends a particularly modern quality in the painting that invites the viewer in to form his or her own opinion.

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