Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

Phillip Barron on Las Meninas



This is entry #70 in our 100 Philosophers, 100 Artworks, 100 Words Series.

Philosopher: Phillip Barron, University of Connecticut

Artwork: Las Meninas (10′ x 9′, oil on canvas, Prado) is the title given to a 1656 painting by the Spanish artist Diego Velázquez. Its composition and complexity raise questions about reality and illusion, most significantly by the presence of a mirror on the far wall of the room.

Just as Descartes reduces thought to rationality,
Velázquez reduces painting to visuality.
— Jose Ortega y Gasset

Words: Sometimes on the metro, I catch myself in windows and see myself as another. Funny how sound is not the same as light. It never echoes transposed the way a mirror moves a scar from left to right.

The painting made me king or queen when peering in the canvas mirror. The nearer to the frame I stand, I am both here and there. Standing at Las Meninas, the self I saw on the train disappears.

After reflection, if I was what I saw, then saw is both the echo and mirror of was.

Image credit: Museo del Prado, via Wikimedia Commons

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