halls of mirrors

The paradox of representation is that it is never real. It remains a fragment of cultural dialog that even if conceived in the absence of narrative finishes by providing one. Both Singer’s Daughters of Edward Darley Boit and Velazquez’s las Meninas have been linked, in art through Singer’s indebtedness to the conventions established by Velazquez. In both works there is an overhanging sense of doom that permeates the musty odor of darkness and anxiety. Alienation and disconnect. The human being as being superimposed into contexts over which they have little sense of free will or control, almost mechanically pre-destined to fulfill bit roles in a larger cosmic sequence of orderly random coincidences that impinge and predict their behavior. Both works compress the sense of eternal and immortal as imprisoned within a three dimensional world and the relentless in unequal cadence of time and death. Illusions of innocence, inertia and melancholy lend credence to the sense of vulnerability underlying the awkward poses of individuals suffering in cages and the viewer is implicated in the spectacle of this menagerie as interpreter of their role and ours within the narrative; there is no ideal point of view, just secondary options all of which deny them the light of day. With the bang of the gavel, lie Kafka’s Before the Law, they are free to pass but transfixed and inert, paralyzed as they look out before whisked away to their fate, dispatched to the more fulfilling role as a fragment of nature.

Both paintings construct the fiction of a hidden king, an unseen hand,  who stands behind all representations and authorizes them.The only vectors of reality reflected within the works are shown to be invalid. Everything vacillates against several planes of form and meaning, all within the painting itself. The takeaway is that illusion and reality become confused, both just as convincing as the other, and competing, one for our faith and the latter as a point of repair to heal our emotion. In the end, we cannot easily discern that what we see is the truth because it is only part of the illusion. The truth may be in the discarded gestures that went into making the painting, each stroke unique and never to be repeated, each struggling between emancipation and submissiveness, between the grammar of color and the language of form.

…Each of these two remarkable paintings suggests a range of tantalizing narratives. Velázquez shows us the young Infanta (princess) Margarita, her maids and tutors and playthings, as well as her parents, King Philip IV and his queen, Mariana of Austria, and the painter himself. Each functions within a series of interlocking yet somewhat independent spaces; each is presumably a likeness. Sargent’s portrait of four young girls does pretty much the same thing with a smaller cast of characters. The young artist (he was only 26 at the time) challenges his iconic predecessor by reconceiving the radical and the unprecedented manner in which Velázquez had visually engaged the viewer as an active participant in the palace scene. They are extremely different works of art, so what justifies this pairing?

Read More: http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/Ashleywy/las_meninas.htm ---Michel Foucault read Diego Velazquez’s painting Las Meninas as portraying a paradoxical relationship between reality and representation. In his interpretation, he constructs a triangular relationship between the painter, the mirror image, and the shadowy man in the background. These three elements are linked because they are all representations of a point of reality outside of the painting. However, by adding Joel Snyder’s rigorous analysis of perspective in Las Meninas to Foucault’s triangle, an additional, equally important, element presents itself: the canvas. It, as well, has a place within Foucault’s triangle. The canvas builds a second triangle within Foucault’s initial triangle that complicates Foucault’s reading and adds to Velazquez’s paradoxes of representation. The second triangle renders the viewer even more scattered between multiple focal points and even more confused because none of these focal points are wholly real or true. Las Meninas becomes a sort of hall of mirrors, controlled by Velazquez the artist.---

…From its first official showing at the Paris Salon of 1883, Sargent’s painting suggested to critics, with some justification, that the artist had somehow been inspired by “Las Meninas.” It’s not an unreasonable assumption. The Prado’s official register of copyists, displayed nearby, shows that Sargent had spent Oct. 27 to Nov. 14, 1879, in the museum copying the Velázquez painting. But seeing the works together makes it evident that it’s more accurate to describe Sargent’s work as informed by Velázquez….

…Each painting explores spatial placement and shows a nuanced understanding of depth of field. Great swaths of darkness—blacks, browns and indescribable in-between colors—accentuate intensely subtle gradations of light, especially through varied uses of white paint. Certainly not an avant-gardist, but nonetheless a modernist for his time, Sargent takes these explorations much further than Velázquez, whose studio in the royal palace—its walls adorned by paintings, a mirror and a door—we can visually enter with some ease. On the other hand, Sargent places the Boit girls in rooms—the entrance hall of their parents’ Paris apartment—that we can’t really enter because, even with what is presumably a mirror in the background, we don’t quite understand where we are. Two of the girls are in the forward space and two in the rear, but Sargent intentionally confuses us in our reading of the room configurations, despite the carefully constructed geometry that aligns the foreground carpet with the hints of architecture. The only other props here are a red screen (at about the same angle as the painter’s canvas in the Velázquez work) and two oversized Japanese blue-and-white vases (the actual ones are placed near the painting in its permanent Boston installation). They loom larger than the four young girls without upstaging them.

Read More: http://beautyovertime.blogspot.com/2011/05/daughters-of-edward-darley-boit-by-john_15.html ---It is obvious that the daughters are discontent by their dissatisfied facial expressions. Emotionless and bored, the daughters seem tired of their routine activities. Even the youngest daughter, whom is playing on the ground with a doll, doesn’t show any traces of a smile. Also demonstrated by the youngest daughter, girls were expected to only do very specific, acceptable things (Radek). Playing with dolls was acceptable because it was considered feminine (Radek) and normal, and did not cause them to exercise their thinking. For a woman in the nineteenth century, physical beauty and attractiveness definitely stood superior to the substance of their character. ---

…There’s something incredibly daring about Sargent’s painting. Ostensibly a group portrait of four sisters, it isolates each of them. Baby Julia, in the foreground, seems to look out at us warily, as does Mary Louisa (Isa) at the left; but it’s possible they aren’t actually looking at us but simply being contemplative. Florence and Jane in the shadowy background are even less like portraits, given their mysterious, dark and hovering presences. Where is all this happening? The Velázquez painting is surely one of the most thoroughly analyzed in the history of art, but we can locate its actors much more easily, just as we can figure out where we, the viewers, stand in relationship to the action. Sargent deprives us of this comfort. His Prado visits would have given him plenty of other paintings of children for inspiration; especially noteworthy is the luscious portrait by Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) of Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, at age 5 (1771), in a white satin dress not wholly unrelated to that of the young Infanta in the Velázquez painting….

…But Sargent is playing a different game. His mastery of the gradations of white—especially as expressed in the girls’ pinafores—from foreground intensity to how it’s gradually and varyingly inflected with the darker background is impressively daring. Surely the Velázquez painting exudes a hauntingly magical glow, but even as seen from afar in the Prado’s long galleria, the whites in the Sargent painting actually glitter, in a way that confirms Henry James’s observation: “when was the pinafore ever painted with that power and made so poetic?”

“Las Meninas” remains a copyist’s dream for its innumerable angles and complexities. Barcelona’s Picasso Museum has three rooms devoted to 44 Picasso paintings of 1957 playing with and interpreting the intricacies of the Velázquez masterpiece. And the Prado is concurrently hosting a small exhibition of the British artist Richard Hamilton’s own 1973 celebration of Picasso’s “Las Meninas” in variations of his own. We can enter the history of the painting and its meanings through the works of a wide range of specialist art historians and even the theater and opera director Jonathan Miller. Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” is the subject of a brilliant and insightful recent study by Erica E. Hirshler. Historical facts, analyses and even anecdotes add to one’s understanding of these amazing works. But nothing can quite prepare you for the direct viewing of them, especially in their current brief and unique encounter with each other at the Prado. It’s worth the trip just for the ultimate lesson in how great paintings can mesmerize us and transform the way we see….Read More:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303491304575188181552332078.html



She is placed just to the left of center. At the same time the light streaming in from the window on the right falls on her more than the surrounding figures. The poses of the figures around her with their gestures call attention to their defference to her authority at the same time as acknowledging the presence of the viewer. Seven of the nine figures stare outward. The effect of this, rather than breaking the spell of spontaneity, implicates the viewer into the narrative of the painting. We are made to be as much a part of the composition as any of the other figures in the painting. We take on the role of both the observer and the observed. There is a reciprocity between our looking and that of the characters in the painting. Without our presence, their glances do not make sense. The role we play in this story is revealed by the mirror image just over the Infanta’s right shoulder. Our role as the King or Queen of Spain explains the attention paid to our presence by the other figures. The relationship of the Infanta to the royal couple is visually asserted by Velázquez by positioning her closest to the mirror image on the picture plane….The position of the vanishing point of the perspective system in relationship to the mirror indicates another inconsistency. If the viewer is intended to take on the literal point of view of the King and Queen, the vanishing point would have to be directly in the center of the mirror, but it is positioned to the right of the mirror. From that point of view the reflection would not be of the King and Queen, but it would be more likely the reflection of the image of the King and Queen in the painting Velázquez works on. Is this intentional on Velázquez’s part to leave the viewer with the question of whether the mirror reflects the King and Queen or their image? Or in other words in looking at the reflection in the mirror are we looking at the reflection of art or nature? Read More:http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/farberas/arth/arth200/artist/las_meninas.html

Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/dec/03/gallery-deal-sargent-velazquez ---"The Boit daughters is just one of those paintings that moves people because of its beauty, but also its mystery," Rogers said. "You don't quite know what these four girls are thinking; it opens up your own imagination. It's got a little bit of sadness, a little bit of happiness, a little bit of childishness, great beauty. It is a very intriguing work." Las Meninas, Velázquez's greatest work, has also baffled as well as entranced and raises so many questions it can make your head hurt. Why do some people look out at the viewer, while others interact? Who is that entering the back of the room? What does he want? And on.---

…In Foucault’s analysis, what is outside the painting gives meaning to what is inside. Therefore, the King and Queen are the center of the scene. They “create this spectacle-as-observation” by providing the “center around which the entire representation is ordered;” they are the “true center of the composition” . And most importantly, they are central because of the “triple function [they] fulfill” . As Foucault remarks, they hold a place on which “occurs an exact superimposition of the model’s gaze, … the spectator’s, … and the painter’s” . These three observe the scene depicted in the painting at different times, but from the same place in space. The three perspectives belong to the King and Queen (who are looking at this scene as they are being painted), Velazquez (the painter of the scene, presumably after the scene has occurred), and we the spectators (who are looking at the finished painting). These three perspectives are each “projected and diffracted in three forms” . The models are seen in the mirror; the painter is self-portrayed on the left side; the spectators are represented by the shadowy figure in the back about to enter or exit the studio .

Within Foucault’s triangle, however, is another. Ten years after Foucault’s reading of Las Meninas, Joel Snyder rigorously analyzed the spatial layout of the painting. His surprising result was that, based upon the lines of perspective, the image contained in the mirror is not a direct reflection of the real figures of the royal couple (the model). Perspective actually requires the mirror to reflect what is on the canvas. Now, looking at the mirror closely, we notice that it has the same tone of a formal portrait. The curtain is draped so as to emphasize the King on the right. The royal couple stand rigidly, proudly posed. The mirror’s image is grainy and indistinct, rather than a sharp, clear reflection. What is the relationship between the real model and the mirror now? The canvas is the bridge between them. The original model is reflected in the canvas—the painting within this painting—and that representation is reflected in the mirror. With the addition of the canvas, a second triangle is created within the original triangle. Read More:http://uwacadweb.uwyo.edu/Ashleywy/las_meninas.htm

…We are looking at a scene in which the characters also seem to be looking at us, though they cannot see us. But are they really looking at us? No, they are looking at the model, the King and Queen. They only seem to be looking at us because we stand at the same place as the model. Outside the painting, the spectator meets the painter and the model, but that is only an illusion. In actuality, the three do not merge into one; they are instead superimposed upon each other. The King and Queen in the mirror are gazing at their unseen real selves just like the rest of the group. But the obstructive size (which causes the painter to have to step aside to look at his model) and the direction of the canvas prevent the model from seeing itself. Ironically, only the mirror on the back wall of the painting proves the presence of the model. Yet, the mirror is also an illusion, for it does not directly reflect reality. Rather, it reflects an altered copy of the truth within the painting: the canvas.( ibid.)

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