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“Las Meninas” by Diego Valesquez Essay

Despite this ‘trickery’ on the part of the artist, it cannot be denied that this painting has belonging at its heart. The delightful little girl is adored by all around her and her innocence and self- assurance that she is loved and cared for as she stands in the centre of the frame, bathed in light, is a display of connectedness to family and place. The enigmatic painting “Las Meninas” by Diego Valesquez was painted in 1656 and many questions were raised about reality and illusion and the film “Strictly Ballroom” was filmed in 1992 and directed by Baz Lurhmman. Framing is what is deliberately included in the frame and what is excluded. The painting shows a “moment in time” during the everyday life of the royal family. The king and queen are only seen in the mirror; it is only when we realise this that we understand we are looking at the painting from the perspective of the royal couple.

Velasquez has centred the focus of this painting not on the royal couple, but on their little girl, who has entered the room with her attendants to have a look at the artist and his work. Once the audience realises this, their understanding of how clever the framing is can be realised. In Strictly Ballroom, each shot is carefully considered to make us question and understand the characters and their motivations. Shirley Hastings is often shown in close up to highlight her hysterical ambition. When Scott and Fran are viewed together, they are often framed in perfect symmetry or balance to show the strength of their union. In Las Meninas, it is not until we realise how cleverly we have been “framed” that we understand the true aspect of the image. In the painting, Diego Velasquez used different ranges of darkness in the background and lightness in the foreground.

The light in the foreground focuses us on the young daughter who immediately catches our attention. The mirror slightly highlighted in the background focuses us, the viewers, on the point that the king and queen are being painted and that we are looking in from their perspectives. Luhrmann cleverly uses lighting to show us the ‘boundaries’ of the included and the excluded. For example, scenes which focus on Doug Hastings dancing alone make us realise that he is in his own little world, cut off from the hysteria and frantic pace of the studio (and his wife). When Scott and Fran dance together, alone or in her backyard, the lighting is softer and more ‘real’ as opposed to the harsh fluorescent and flood light of the dance arena.

Las Meninas portrays a sense of illusory, where we think we are looking at one thing, when in actual fact we are meant to be seeing another. Las Meninas creates this effect for us, when we look at the picture we automatically assume that the picture was painted around the young girl which is centred in the picture. The idea that “things are not what they seem” is developed further in Strictly Ballroom when we consider the artificial world of the dance floor. Feathers, flowers, fruit are all artificial and used to heighten the artificial glamour of the competitors. This sense of fakery is heightened when we learn that the competitions can be ‘rigged’. We are also invited to consider the film through the eyes of the ‘documentary’ viewer as Shirley recounts the first half of the narrative in flashback.


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