Velázquez’s Las Meninas  (The Maids of Honour) (1656)

This great icon of Philip IV’s court has fascinated generations of art lovers with its beguiling play on different levels of reality. In it we see Velázquez with brush in hand working at a large canvas, in the presence of the Infanta Margarita Teresa with her household, including dwarves and a sleepy hound, and her parents, King Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria, reflected in a mirror at the back of the room. This lecture looks at the context of the painting in Velázquez’ work and career, poses some ideas about the composition – so daring for its time – and reflects on its influence on later generations of artists from Goya to Picasso.