Countless pages has been written about the famous masterpiece of the 17th century Spaniard Diego Velazquez, among others by (again) Michel Foucault in Let Mots et les Choses. However, I’m not going to tell you what to see. I’m going to ask some questions. During the lecture in Brebl I discussed the answers with the audience. I will not do that here, the questions can serve as directions. The answers can be thought up by the reader and perhaps discussed with others.
– Who is the main character of this painting, to whom is the eye drawn initially?
– Who is the person left on the canvas and what is it he is doing?
– How is a self-portrait usually made? What could we conclude from that
for the whole canvas?
– Yet something is wrong: besides the door opening with the man in it, something else lights up on the back wall. What could it be?
something on. What could that be?
– So we do not actually look in a mirror. Whose position are we as spectators put in?
In conclusion: the performance on the painting is a play with reality and appearance, which is played via us, the spectators. It only opens up to us when we activate our gaze instead of consuming it passively. We are forced to ask questions about the nature of representation, the ratio between what is real and what is representation, without expecting perfect answers.
But that is not yet everything. We get the impression of a more or less coincidental snapshot, the composition is lively and balanced, the paint treatment is superior, in short it is also ‘just’ very beautiful. It is worth taking the time and asking yourself: what is happening here?
The painting inspired Picasso to paint an extensive series of his own interpretations, in which the palace of mirrors that Velazquez presented to us, was first ‘broken into pieces’, and then reassembled again, which was Picasso’s way of adding a new layer of meaning.
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