In brief, this painting is essentially a representation of the court of Philip IV and the focal point of the work is the Infanta Margarita who is surrounded by various figures, including her maids of honor, dwarfs and a dog. Las Meninas depicts a large room in the palace of King Philip IV of Spain and most of the figures can be identified as members of the Spanish Court. The figure of the painter is also prominent .There is also a mirror at the back of the figures that depicts the King and Queen.
This complex and mysterious work of art has been the subject of much debate, especially with regard to the theme of illusion and reality in art. It has therefore become one of most widely discussed and analyzed paintings in the Western art discourse. The following commentary provides some ideas of the contemporary interest in this painting.
Velazquez's Las Meninas has long captivated viewers by its effect of naturalism. Nineteenth century critics saw it as anticipating the invention of the camera with its effect of capturing a "snapshot" of a moment in time and space. Contemporary critics have emphasized the calculated control Velazquez employed to construct this effect of naturalism. Rather than as a snap-shot, a transparent window, or a spotless mirror of the world, Las Meninas is today seen to be more about the nature of painting, the artist's control over representation, and the status of Velazquez as a court artist
(Velazquez's Las Meninas)
One of the masterpieces by this painter in the Prado museum is The Third of May 1808, also known as El tres de mayo de 1808 en Madrid. The painting was completed in 1881. It is in essence a depiction and commemoration of Spanish resistance to Napoleon's armies during the occupation of 1808. It represents a firing squad slaughtering a group of men in the early hours of the morning. The canvas is divided between the rigid and cruel line of executing rifles and the shapes of the dead and dying. The painting is an evocation of mood and atmosphere and has been described as Goya's "…uncompromising portrayal of his times marks the beginning of 19th-century realism" (Goya (y Lucientes), Francisco (Jose) de).
Figure 2. The Shootings of May Third 1808.1814;Oil on canvas, 104 3/4 x 136 .
It is also a depiction of there horror of war and the human predicament. According to an art critic "In The Third of May he shows one aspect of the irrational, the predetermined brutality of men in uniform" (GOYA, Francisco). This painting influenced Pablo Picasso's and his 1937 masterpiece, Guernica,
4.3. El Greco
El Greco is recognized as is "… first great genius of the Spanish School" (Greco, El). His unique personality, as well as his diverse cultural background produced a highly individual style. As one critic notes," His paintings are Byzantine icons drenched in Venetian color and fused in the fires of Spanish mysticism" (Madrid's Prado Museum)
Figure 3. Greco -- The Adoration of the Shepherds (La Adoracion de los Pastores) La Adoracion de los Pastores) 1612 (125.9" X 70.8")
It is significant to note that this painting was intended to be hung in El Greco's burial chapel in Toledo. This was where it was in fact displayed unto the 1950, when it was moved to the Prado museum.
In essence this work displays much aspect of El Greco's techniques and vision. The painting depicts the gathering of the shepherds to adore the baby Jesus. It is a work that is filled with spiritual hennery and passion. "Their long bodies and expressive hands are stretched upward, flickering like flames toward heaven, lit from within by a spiritual fire. Christ is the light source, shining out of the darkness, giving a sheen to the surrounding colors" (Madrid's Prado Museum). The painting is divided into two areas that symbolize heaven and earth. These two areas seem to interpenetrate and suggest the interaction between God and man in the birth of Christ.
5. The contemporary significance of the Museum
The contemporary significance of the Prado museum has been suggested by the discussion above. It is important to the modern art world in that it provides access to a range of works that are representative of some the best art that Western culture has produced. In this sense it is a source of inspiration for the contemporary artist and other art museums and institutions. The Prado museum is not only a repository of interest to art historians but is a living and developing museum that provides a sense of the continuance of art and art tradition.
In conclusion, the above discussion has emphasized not only the extent and size of the museum but also the quality of the works that are included in its various collections. As one commentator emphasizes on experiencing the museum; "It wasn't like other museums. Its paintings were the truths of some of the greatest observers who ever lived. You could learn from them just as you learned from the great writers. Seeing those pictures was multiplying your own experience (The Prado Museum, Madrid). What makes the museum so significant is the range and wealth of art that is available to be seen. This is further enhanced by the fact that the Prado is a living institution with new acquisition and additions in progress and others being planned for the future.
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