Worst. Essay. Ever.

Las Meninas, Diego Velasquez, 1656

Las Meninas, Diego Velasquez, 1656

Before reading this I feel it is important to understand the context under which it was written. This is an Art History class for non-art majors, focusing on the renaissance through cubism. This is for exam two. The class is two hours long, and the first portion of the test is fill-in-the-blank coupled with viewing of projected slides of various paintings the class had learned about. The essay portion allows the student to choose one of three topics and use whatever time is left of the two hours to write the essay. The test started at 6:15 PM and I left the classroom at 6:48 PM. I’m not certain how much of that time I was actually writing the essay, as I was writing between slides as well.

The prompt I chose for the essay was: “Valesquez’s Las Meninas 1656. Describe the form and content of the painting. What are the two subject matter. Describe the way the artist includes the viewer and how he leaves the meaning uncertain.”

And so, here is what I refereed to as my “worst essay ever” (though I suppose if I wrote “dog poop” a few times and turned that in, it’d be worse):

Las Meninas is a portrait of the princess of Spain, while implying to the viewer that they are the subject. As the handmaidens attend to the princess, she, the attending dwarves, and the artist acknowledge the viewer’s position is occupied. The mirror in the background shows that the king and queen are looking on, possibly the subjects of the painting-within-the-painting. Velasquez effectively places the viewer in the king and queen’s shoes. It is only momentarily, however, as a courtier in the back of the studio opens a door to prepare the way for the royal visitors.

All the above is subject to speculation, however, as the man in the back can be coming or going. As well, it is not clearly indicated if the royal pair are visiting or sitting for a portrait. The king’s dog also in the painting, but what he’s doing there (other than being prodded by a dwarf’s foot) is not certain. I personally read this painting as the king and queen having their portrait done and the princess is waiting (possibly impatiently as implied by the maidens fussing over her) for her turn to be included in the portrait.

There are two light sources in the painting. From the right, natural light enters and brightens the princess showing she is the true focus of the painting. Rather than being a simple group portrait, Velasquez included implied movement, making the painting a snapshot in time. The second light source is in the back, where a man looks on, interrupting the scene just as the light interrupts the dark background.

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