Portrait / Self-Portrait
When my husband and I lived in Madrid in 1988-1989, we frequented the Museo del Prado. We’d seek out certain works—by El Greco, Zurbarán, Bosch, Fra Angelico—then halt in front of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, trying to parse that cryptic painting.
The figures in Las Meninas enact an enigmatic narrative that art critics have attempted to read for centuries. Love in the Time of Dementia contains both a portrait and a self-portrait, as does Las Meninas.
At first glance, a viewer might assume that Velázquez’s canvas is the portrait of the Princess Margarita—the blonde child who’s the central figure. When I began writing my essays, I’d assumed that the main figure was my husband, Dick Cain.
But Las Meninas is also the artist’s self-portrait. Off to the side, Velázquez depicts himself behind his easel. Some critics consider the painting to be more a portrait of the painter than of the Spanish royal household. I’ve come to realize that my essays include a self-portrait, as well as a portrait of my husband. Had I been able to hide behind that canvas, I would have done so. As it is, I stand revealed.
Featured image: Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez (1656), Museo del Prado, Madrid
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