A new show at the Prado Museum in Madrid - “Velázquez and the Family of Philip IV” - spotlights the portraits that Diego Velasquez painted while in the service of the Spanish monarchy and when he painted his masterwork "Las Meninas" (Maids of Honor).
But you won't see "Las Meninas" in this show, even though the Prado owns it. You'll only see a sketch of it that the curator of the Prado show, Javier Portús, doesn't think Velasquez painted. In fact, even though the show is called "Velasquez and the Family of Philip IV", only half of the show is by Velasquez.
"Las Meninas" warrants discussion.
Unsparing realism, even in depictions of royalty, was a Velasquez trademark and you can this see everywhere in the group portrait of the king’s daughter, Infanta Dona Margarite surrounded by the court staff. He also included a pair of dwarfs, one of whom is kicking the family dog. Clearly he painted what he saw, even down to Margarite refusing refreshments.
Another Velasquez trademark is brushwork so loose that while up-close
the imagery makes little sense, at a distance, it becomes pristinely clear and downright lively, owing to his way of applying paint. A great example of this is "Las Meninas," particularly Margarite’s sleeve, which is made of rapid, fuzzy dabs of paint. The effect is vintage Impressionism three centuries before its time.
A chronicler of Velasquez' time, Richard Cumberland, wrote of the reaction of fellow painter Luca Giordano to "Las Meninas":
“When Charles the II of Spain showed this picture to Lucas Jordan,
he exclaimed with rapture and surprise, “Senior esta es la Theologia de la Pintura (Sir, this is the theology of painting).”
Velasquez got the same kind of adulation centuries later when Impressionist Edouard Manet enthused, “The painters of all schools, who surround him here in the museum at Madrid and who are very well represented, all seem like bluffers. He is the painter of painters... he has enchanted me.”
If you want enchantment, skip this show and head for "Las Meninas" hanging elsewhere in the museum.