Of Craft and Matter

Antonio Muñoz Molina at Hudson Review:

The foreground of the most looked-at painting in the museum is partly taken up by a painting seen from the back. Everything in Las Meninas seems overt and at the same time is deceptive. The mystery of what may or may not be painted on the canvas is counterpoised by the concrete evidence of its reverse, and along with it, by the irreducible material nature of the art of painting, emphasized by the scale of that enormous object made of stiff, rough cloth and wooden bars locked together firmly enough for the contraption to stand upright. Velázquez devotes as much attention to those carefully cut pieces of wood—their knots, their volume, the way the light shows them in relief, the rough texture of the cloth—as to the blond, dazzled hair of the infanta or to the butterfly, perhaps of silver filigree, that the maid María Agustina Sarmiento wears in her hair, as distinct as a piece of jewelry when seen from a distance, though it dissolves into small abstract patches of color when seen up close. Velázquez had “brushes . . . furnished with long handles,” says Palomino, “which he employed sometimes to paint from a greater distance and more boldly, so it all seemed meaningless from up close, and proved a miracle from afar.”

more here.