The Meninas (or Philip IV’s family) is a baroque painting by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. It was finished in 1656. It is characterized for its big size. In the painting, the Meninas are the women who are next to Infant Margarita, who was Philip IV’s and Mariana of Austria’s daughter, whose silhouettes we can see reflected on the mirror at the background. We can appreciate the presence of humble figures, such as the dog, the Meninas and the dwarfs. At the background, in the wall, there are some paintings, which have been identified as copies of Rubens’ works.
The Infant Margarita is the center of all the characters, who project from the Infant to the mirror, and to the door at the background (elements which give a great depth to the work. In this painting, Velázquez uses, simultaneously, long and fluid brush-strokes; and precise and short brush-strokes (as we can observe in the Infants’ dresses. This combination of brush-strokes gives realism to the painting, that is an important feature of Barroque art: there are different textures which make the image “go out” of the canvas and the scene seems to be alive.
Other Baroque painting characteristics we can observe in this painting are the use of oil painting, predominance of colour over drawing and contrast of light and shadow (known as chiaroscuro). The light has a great importance in this painting, which has two different light focuses: the one which is over the figures of the people and the dog at de foreground and the one on the door at the background.
The softened outlines with the chiaroscuro make the painting deeper. There is great chromatic diversity: there is contrast between black, white and red. The scene took place in a bedroom in the Alcázar of Madrid, so we know that this painting belongs to the last years that Velázquez spent in Madrid. At the beginning this painting was called “Family Portrait”, but later it started being called “The Meninas” in 1843, due to the Portuguese word “Menina” which means maid of honor.
Diego Velázquez, born in Seville in 1599, is considered to be the most important baroque painter in Spain. His first works reflect the influence of Italian painters like Caravaggio, mainly in the use of chiaroscuro and naturalism in the images. Since he visited Rome, Venice and Naples, he was influenced by Venetian painters and he did looser brush-strokes.