Diego Velasquez’s secret was to be ahead of his time

“Las meninas” is one of the best paintings in history. It is a reference in Western culture. It is a compendium of the art of painting, light and colour. You have to see it at least once in your life because It has all the keys to painters and, oddly enough, to photographers.


In “Las Menenas” Diego Velazquez showed everything he knows. He painted it for the king for his private rooms in the palace. He was saved from the fire that devastated the Alcázar de los Austrias, and was an inspiration to all the great painters born after him. Even today we don’t know for sure what we see.

In my photography lessons, I always recommend seeing and looking at this painting to understand how reality is organized on a 2D plane, how to learn to control light to give depth and understand the importance of shadows. Moreover, according to recent studies, More related to photography than you might think.

According to the study conducted by Professor and Researcher at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia Miguel Osandizaga, It is very likely that the sketch of “Las Meninas” was drawn with the help of a large dark camera. He reveals to us an author before his time.

Biography of Diego Velazquez

Velazquez is the same One of the best painters in history. He was a court painter Philip IV since the beginning of his reign, just two years after his coronation. His insight allows us to understand this important period in the history of Spain.

This is not the time to detail the life and work of one of the main artists in the history of art. We’ll look at what mythical painting is and what we photographers can benefit from. But it is important to put ourselves in context.

Diego Velazquez

He has not left the court since the Duke of Olivares summoned him to serve the King. He was able to see and study paintings in palaces, especially in Titian. He was born in Seville with a gift, Seville. But he did not stop training all his life. Such was his fame that Robbins himself visited him in Spain (from the memory of that meeting Rubens’ Cross on Mount Abantus San Lorenzo de El Escorial.

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Encouraged by the famous painter, he went to Italy to buy art to decorate palaces and was able to see the works of Renaissance masters, such as Tintoretto, Michelangelo and Raphael. s His influence can be seen in two large paintings from the end of his life: “Las hilanderas” and the painting we are going to talk about now, “Las meninas.”

“Las Meninas” and blocking the camera

In 2020, the study by Professor and Researcher Miguel Osandezaga was published, in which he showed that Velazquez used a darkened camera to faithfully reproduce spaces and give that Baroque sense of reality. It’s not an isolated study, because in 2018, Fernando Zaparín Hernández, in the journal ‘Goya’ (Issue 362), says the composition afforded by the painting is very similar to a camera’s vision.

The dark camera compartment allows the physical phenomenon of light to be reproduced. You just need a light tight space, a small hole or a small hole and the light will go through and display everything that is happening outside on the opposite wall upside down and upside down. Any camera, even a mobile phone, has a dark camera inside.

One of the most surprising evidence, to prove the use of the camera obscura, is that they placed the camera in the position of the observer, where the painter was supposed to be, and The airlines coincided with what we see on the enormous canvas.

In all the studies we consulted, they described the Alcázar hall in which the painting was painted. Next to it was the room of Prince Baltasar Carlos, painted by Velázquez on horseback and who would die in 1646 at the age of 17. In the time of our image It was a painter’s studioBeside the Golden Tower.

Alcazar Madrid

Madrid Palace

Studies show that Velázquez put a large darkroom there, far from the curious who could talk about magic, and with it he carefully traced the flight lines, like other masters of painting. Where does this theory come from? Plain and simple from careful observation of another board.

Kingston Lacy Girls

“Las Meninas” by Kingston Lacey

In the county of Dorset, in Kingston Lacey in the United Kingdom, the only known copy of “Las Meninas” has been preserved. What caught our eye was a vertical line not found in Prado’s painting, behind the character kicking the dog.

Las Meninas

The famous line that aroused suspicion

The views in both pictures are identicalAlthough the size is different. It’s a sketch, a preparatory board, or if we want a negative of a large board in which certain things have been corrected to obscure the use of the camera:

Kingston Lacy’s painting is not a copy, nor is it a sketch of the great painting. It’s not just Velázquez, nor just Mazo: both. Which is, concretely, what we might call, by analogy with the parlance of photography, the “pictorial negative” of great painting.

Las Meninas Both frames are overlapping

The process is remarkable. Primarily, Velázquez used the camera dark to trace perspective lines on Kingston Lacy’s canvas, then placed the painting inside the camera, lit it from the inside (like a light cannon) and finally displayed the note. Canvas for the final lines.

All this leads us to believe that The painting has more to say to photographers than we thought. Not just because of the light or the composition, but because it could have been done with the same tool that all photographers use, which is the dark camera.

It is for this reason that we should view them with greater respect, if possible. We should go whenever we can to the Prado Museum and stand in front of the painting to discover its secrets. Antonio Palomino did this already in the days of the painter Michael Foucault in his famous text or painter Antonio Lopez in “El sol del membrillo”. We have to find our inspiration.

Las Meninas and photography

I read a long time ago that Velazquez was able to draw air for the first time. As they say on the Prado Museum page:

The characters inhabit a space not only according to the laws of scientific perspective but also through an atmospheric perspective, in which the multiplication of light sources plays an important role in its definition. … details of extraordinary beauty spread over the entire pictorial surface; And the painter took a decisive step on the path of illusion, which was one of the goals of European painting in the modern era, going beyond the transmission of analogy and successfully striving to represent life or animation.

Las Meninas

Prepare everything to direct the eyes of the royal spectators. The Infanta Margherita is the focal pointThey wear light colors. The scene then dances across the canvas in rhythmic steps thanks to the lights and shadows that separate the figures inhabiting the canvas. And in the background we have the point of light which is the necessary open door of the composition. We can walk through it without getting lost.

Everything is logical. There is nothing informal. The characters do not present themselves, nor do they seem to realize that they represent the painter. It is the perfect recreation of reality. For the first time we feel able to walk inside a panel with Mrs. Dona Marcela de Ulloa, the doorman whose name is unknown, and in the background, behind the door, José Nieto, servant of the Queen (Velázquez was king).

That can be said We are in front of a street photo. fee There is a cousin, without previous drawing or drawing. The action of the brush is lively and nervous, as if it were a choppy image or at high ISO. And the light is always with the inescapable company of shadow.

According to the above study conducted by Fernando Zabarin Hernandez, Everything supported by the light from the open door in the backgroundAs we mentioned before. The view ends there, the perspective makes sense due to this point of light. We photographers can learn the following by looking at it:

  1. Look for the light that accompanies the moment. Shade is also part of the collection. This is how we represent volume.
  2. Objects and people must be clean, that is, without anything obstructing their vision.
  3. Everything should be positioned to direct the viewer’s gaze.

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It is always said that Goya was the pre-illustrator of painters. But we forget about Velazquez. It was earlier with this work. And from here we can learn a valuable lesson that is more important than the camera or the mobile phone we use. One thing is technique and the other, more relevant, is learning to look.

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