Oil painting on canvas, 'Las meniñas' (The Handmaidens of the Infanta Margarita in the Household of Philip IV) (after Velázquez) by Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo (Beteta province of Cuenca c.1612 – Madrid 1667), between 1656, date of the original, and 1677 when this reduction was first recorded. Left to right, portraits of: Velázquez, full-length, facing, a palette in his left hand; Doña Maria Augustina Sarmiento, full-length, kneeling, dressed in silver and black and offering the Infanta a drink in a red cup; Infanta Margarita, full-length, turned slightly to left, head, turned slightly to right, facing, wearing a silver dress, long blonde shoulder-length hair; Don José Nieto Velázquez, aposentador, or Palace Marshall, Master of the Queen's Tapestry, full-length, standing on some steps in an open doorway at back of room; Doña Isabel de Velasco, full-length, dressed in grey and silver with red ribbons at her wrist; Doña Marcela de Ulloa, guardamujer de las damas de la Reina, full-length, turning to talk to and unknown attendant full-length, facing; Maribárbola, a dwarf, full-length, dressed in dark blue with silver trimmings; Nicola de Portosanto/Pertusarto, dwarf, full-length, dressed in dark red, shoulder-length hair with his left foot on a mastiff which is lying on the ground, right, facing centre of canvas. It takes its name from the handmaidens of the Infanta Margarita (1651-73), daughter of Philip IV of Spain and Mariana of Austria. The original is now in the Prado, Madrid.
It may seem perverse, with all the wealth of paintings in National Trust houses to choose from, to show a copy. Yet not only is the original one of the most sublime but enigmatic paintings in the world - "The theology of painting", as Luca Giordano memorably called it - a painting that has never been exhibited, and never will be exhibited, outside its native Spain, but this reduction of it has considerable interest and qualities of its own. The presence of such a copy in this exhibition - though it is more homage than copy, with its own characteristics as a sketch , and, because of this fact, was bought in the belief that it was Velázquez's original sketch for the painting now in the Prado - will also serve as a reminder of the important role played by copies in collections in the past.
One of the benefits of photography is greatly to have facilitated comparisons between versions of particular pictures, thus helping to establish which is the original, where that is in doubt, and making it easier to see where copies fall short of that original. It has, however, also had the unlooked-for consequence that, because it is so easy to get to know the composition of a particular painting from photographic reproductions of it, it has come to be felt quite unnecessary to expose the public to painted copies as well. This is to ignore the vital contributions to our experience of a picture made by paint and canvas (or whatever other support) themselves, and by direct perception of scale (though, in the present case, we are, strictly speaking, confronted with a reduction rather than a copy, so that this factor does not apply). It must be a moot point whether it is really better to be subjected to yet another inferior - but original - production by some petit-maître, than to a good copy of major painting in a foreign country that we may only ever be able to see once - if at all - in our lifetime; yet, given the choice, a museum or gallery will always hang the former. Collections in houses, by preserving the older way of hanging copies and originals side by side, not only remind us of this earlier way of doing things, but broaden the possibilities of enjoyment of celebrated pictures.
Much too much has been written about 'Las Meninas' for a mere sciolist to attempt to summarise it here . One or two points are, however, worth making about it, particularly insofar as they relate to the relationship between copy and original, and between the copyist, Mazo, and this particular work of his master and father-in-law, Velázquez.
In the first place - because it has given rise to much confusion - it is worth pointing out that the title by which the original has long been known, Las Meninas, was only given to it in the mid-19th century; and that although the word, which was taken over from Portuguese (Portugal and Spain being under one Crown between 1580 and 1640), originally meant '(female) children', it was used at the Spanish Court to denote the female attendants of a royal child: in this cas, of the Infanta Margarita (1651-1673) - later to be Empress - who holds centre stage. Nor are the figures in the foreground by any means all children (as Wilkie thought they were, dressed up): the two on the right are royal dwarves -Maribárbola, who was of German origin, and Nicola de Portosanto/Pertusato, who was born in Italy . On the first occasion on which it is listed, in the Alcázar in 1666, it is called a portrait of: "the Lady Empress [as the Infanta Margarita had by then become] with her ladies and a female dwarf".
Then, though it is a hotly debated issue (and ultimately unknowable) - there is the question - best formulated by Théophile Gautier, in the form: "But where is the painting" - of what we are seeing, and what Velázquez is painting. Palomino, who devoted a whole chapter to the picture in his Parnaso español laureado (1724) , says that it shows Velázquez painting King Philip IV and his Queen, Mariana of Austria, who - or whose joint portrait (Palomino says) - is seen reflected in the mirror at the far end of the room. He also says that King, Queen, Princesses (so also the Infanta Maria Teresa, Philip IV's daughter by his first marriage - strangely omitted from the painting itself), and ladies of the bedchamber - all used to enjoy coming to watch Velázquez at work.
There is not, nor ever was, however, any such portrait by Velázquez of King and Queen together, nor - because of the isolation of majesty - would any such portrait of a royal couple have been thought appropriate at the Spanish Hapsburg court (Palomino was writing under the Bourbons) . Instead, as the scale of the canvas with its back to us tends to confirm, the painter is probably seen in the act of painting 'Las Meninas' itself; his studio (which was in the 'Gallery of the Prince' - i.e. of the by then deceased Baltasar Carlos - in the Royal Palace known as the Alcázar) already thronged by the Princess and her attendants, and now further interrupted by a visit from the King and Queen themselves. Painter, Princess (distracted from the water offered her by the unseeing doña Maria Augusta Sarmiento), doña Isabel de Velasco (who does see them, and so drops a curtsey), and female dwarf - all look at them, where we stand, as they enter (the male dwarf is either unaware of their entrance, or else kicks the dog - supposedly a Lyme mastiff - to get it out of the way; Palomino says that it was to demonstrate the creature's imperturbability). At the far end of the room, don José Nieto Velázquez (apparently no relation), 'Master of the Queen's tapestry' (but who had been worsted by Velázquez in 1652 in his application for the post of Aposentador, or Chamberlain of the Royal Palace, and was only at some subsequent point compensated with the title of Aposentador de la Reina), appears to be drawing back an arras, in order for the royal couple to proceed to the room beyond .
One of the two most significant differences between the present reduction and the original, is that the reflections of the royal couple (but not of the crimson curtain above them) are lacking from the mirror at the end of the room. The other is that Velázquez's palette is no longer set with his full spectrum of colours, but only with white and red. There is nothing to suggest that, in the original, the Royal couple, like the red cross of the Order of Santiago (which is of a less elaborate form in the present picture, to which it may also have been added subsequently), to which Velázquez was only admitted (after lying furiously and collusively over his never having derogated from his inherited gentleman's status by painting for gain!) in 1659, three years after the original picture was painted, so that the cross had then to be added (thus not by the King himself on completion of the picture, as the charming legend would have it!), were also later additions by Velázquez. Nor would they seem to have been left out here because too indistinct or challenging to render: Mazo did replicate Velázquez's vague suggestions of the forms in the two paintings hanging above. Instead, it would seem to have been Mazo's subtle acknowledgement of the fact that, whereas Velázquez was painting himself in the act of painting the picture that we - but originally the royal couple - see (if only in the mirror) as a completed painting, he - the copyist - was simply making a painting of a painting, with no royal presence.
That del Mazo (who, incidentally, had begun his career as Painter to Prince Baltasar Carlos), did meditate upon the meaning of Las Meninas, whilst shrinking from the full extent of its play with levels of reality, is suggested by his picture of The Painter's Family in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which was probably painted shortly after Velázquez's death, when Mazo had succeeded him as pintor de cámara. This shows the painter's two families, by Velázquez's daughter and by his second wife, Francisca de la Vega - who is also in the picture - on a stage-like foreground, behind which a curtain is pulled back to reveal a room with - at the first level behind - an example of one of Mazo's portraits of Philip IV. To the right of that is an opening - as in Velázquez's own early picture, there seems to be deliberate ambiguity as to whether this is an actual opening to another room, or an unframed painting on the wall feigning such an opening. Within this, the painter is at work on a portrait of a now older Infanta Margarita - but with no sitter present, nor royal visitors: only, instead, his youngest child in leading reins, restrained from rushing towards him by a thoroughly rustic nurse. Just one of the children in the foreground looks out at us, to establish contact between our two worlds; but the painter, far from being highlighted, as the pivot on which the whole of Las Meninas turns, is relegated to a distant vision. It is hard not to see all this as Mazo's painted commentary on Las Meninas, expressive both of his more traditional relationship with the royal family, as compared with that which Velázquez had enjoyed, and of a very different approach to his art .
Mazo is also present in Las Meninas in the form of his copies, on the far wall, of two of the paintings designed by Rubens for the Torre de la Parada: Minerva's punishment of Arachne (the final painting is lost, and we do not know who executed it) and The Judgement of Midas (the final painting was executed by Jordaens; both it and Mazo's copy are in the Prado, inv.nos. 1551 & 1712) - both, piquantly, illustrating cases of artistic hubris (and, in the case of the former, showing a contest over Don José's responsibility, tapestry).
From the foregoing, it can be seen that Las Meninas was a painting of, addressed to, witnessed by, and expressive of Velázquez's relationship with, Philip IV and his family. It was thus not a public work; it was kept in the private royal apartments of - originally the Alcázar and, after the destruction of that by fire in 1734 (in which it was slightly damaged) - the New Palacio Real. It was not on public display until it was transferred to the newly-created Prado in 1819. Even the former owner of this picture, a powerful minister, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos said that he had only seen the original once or twice in passing.
Nor, in all that time is there a record of any painted copy but one of it (only Goya made a rare etching of it, which, with his preparatory drawing, was almost as prized by collectors as if it were the original). The arguments for identifying this picture with that copy are compelling - not least because it must have been done at the only time that a copy could have been made: before the transfer of the original from Velázquez's studio to the Royal Apartments. That same fact is one of the strongest arguments for its author having been the one person whom Velázquez - and the King - in the case of such a commission, might have authorised to make a copy: his son-in-law and former pupil, Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo . Although not recorded as the copyist of this specific picture when it was first mentioned in 1677, in the collection of the famous collector and patron of Velázquez himself, Don Gaspar de Haro, Marqués del Carpio, he was already recorded as the author of other copies of works by Titian and Velázquez from the Royal Collection in an inventory of Carpio's collection made in 1651.
There is, admittedly, a gap of almost a century in the picture's history after the 1677 inventory, and Carpio's death in 1687, but since only one copy of Las Meninas is ever mentioned in the 17th century, and only one in the 18th century, there seems little doubt that they were one and the same. Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811), statesman, scholar, poet, and patron of the arts, who, "in his days of prosperity ... amused his leisure by collecting pictures" , was given the picture in 1790 by the nephew of a cleric seeking to curry favour with him, Pedro Díaz de Valdés, acting on the instigation of the great historian of Spanish art, Céan Bermúdez, who acted through the agency of the medallist Pedro de Sepúlveda . Jovellanos at one point considered giving the picture to the widow of the Infanta Don Luis, and later contemplated bequeathing it back to the Inquisitor Díaz Valdés, but thought better of both. It was thus with him when he died in 1811, and it was his heirs who, "in a bad moment", sold it to William Bankes, who, "was a long while in treaty for it & was obliged at last to give a high price" .
Having obtained it, he regarded it as "the glory of my collection ... which I flatter myself will be the finest in England, tho' not a finished picture", and entrusted it to the British Minister to the Court of Spain, Sir Henry Wellesley (later Lord Cowley, who himself owned one of the rare examples of Goya's etching of Las Meninas), no doubt for him to ship back to England with the protection of diplomatic immunity . Once there it was ultimately installed, as William Bankes had always planned for it, and as shown in his own early drawings indicating how his Spanish pictures were to be hung , in pride of place in the great Golden, or Spanish, Room, where, as Waagen was to say: "I know no other collection in England containing so many valuable pictures of the Spanish school" .
(i) As recorded by Acisclo Antonio Palomino de Castro y Velasco in his life of Velázquez in the third part of his El museo pictorico:El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado (1724), trans. as Lives of the Eminent Spanish painters and Sculptors, by Nina Ayala Mallory, Cambridge, 1987, p.166.
(ii) Although the picture has the visible qualities of a sketch - though its handling ranges from quite finished faces (e.g. Velázquez's) to parts left unfinished (e.g. the door frame) - it is painted over a squared-down grid and a considerable amount of underdrawing.
(iii) The fundamental work on the identity of those portrayed is F.J. Sánchez Cantón, La Meninas y sus personajes, Barcelona, 1943.
(iv) "Où est donc le tableau" (Gutier 1864,p. 280)
(v) Palomino, El museo pictórico y escala optica (1724), vol.III: El Parnaso español pintoresco laureado, 'Velázquez' ch.VII, trans. Mallory, 1987, pp.164-66.
(vi) I did not see the perspectival reconstruction by Philip Troutman at the Slade Art School in December 1992, which purported to demonstrate that it is a portrait of the royal couple that is reflected in the mirror, but - as with all cases of "pictures within pictures" - the fictive element cannot be overlooked, and in this particular case, such a double portrait neither existed nor could have existed.
(vii) See, for the pictorial significance and origins of this figure, André Chastel, 'La Figure dans l'encadrement de la porte chez Vélazquez', in Actes du colloque Vélazquez,1963, pp.141-45; reprinted in Fables, Forms, Figures, Paris, 1978, vol.II, pp.145-55 & col.pl.
(viii) Perhaps even the setting of the palette with only two colours is a gesture of modesty. It is worth drawing attention to another painted tribute to Las Meninas, albeit one whose exact meaning has yet to be explained, the so-called 'Homage to Velázquez' by Luca Giordano, in the National Gallery (No.1434; cf. Michael Levey, The 17th and 18th Century Italian Schools, The National Gallery, 1971, pp.113-14).
(ix) See the compelling arguments for this, and the convincing reconstruction of the picture's provenance, by Enriqueta Harris, in "Las Meninas' at Kingston Lacy", The Burlington Magazine, February 1990, pp.125-30.
(x) For the collections of Don Gaspar de Haro, see J.M. Pita Andrade, 'Los cuadros de Vélazquez y Mazo que poseyó el septimo Marqués del Carpio', Archivo Español de Arte, 1952; and M. Burke, Private collections of Italian Art in seventeenth-century Spain, doctoral dissertation, New York University, 1984, cited by Harris, 1990.
(xi) William Stirling, Annals of the Artists of Spain, 1848, vol.III, p.1387.
(xii) This complicated story was unearthed by Nigel Glendinning, and supplied to Enriqueta Harris,1990, p.129.
(xiii) William Bankes's letter to his father, Henry Bankes, from Alicante, 17th-20th October, 1814 (Dorset Record Office; published by Kathleen Maclarnon, in 'William Bankes and his collection of Spanish paintings at Kingston Lacy', The Burlington Magazine, February 1990, appendix I, p.123).
(xiv) Maclarnon, 1990., and William Bankes's letter to his father from Cairo, 3rd September 1815, ibid., appendix II, p.124.(Dorset RO) & from Alicante, 17-20 October 1814, appendix I, p. 123.
(xv) Maclarnon, 1990, p.114, figs. 47 & 48.
(xvi) Gustav Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, 1957, p.383.
(adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
In the private apartments of Royal Palace, Madrid (Jardin de San Joachim, inventory 15 June 1677, no. 314 and posthumous inventory of 1688 as no. 364, valued at 4,000 reales) with Don Gaspar de Haro, 7th Marqués del Carpio (1629 - 1687); taken in lieu of debts by his cousin, the Conde de Monterrey in 1690; acquired by the medallist Pedro de Sepúlveda (1744-1815), from an undisclosed source, for 2,500 reales, for Pedro Diaz de Valdes and (?Bernardo del) Campo to present to Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744-1811), at the instigation of Ceán Bermúdez, in February 1790 [the number 276 inscribed on reverse of unlined canvas, may have been that given to the picture in Jovellanos's collection); bought from the heirs of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos by William John Bankes (1786-1855) by October 1814; sent to Kingston Lacy via Sir Henry Wellesley (1773 - 1847) (brother of the Duke of Wellington and then Ambassador to Spain); thence by descent until bequeathed to the National Trust, with the estates and contents of Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle by Ralph Bankes (1902-1981)
Kingston Lacey, The Bankes Collection (National Trust)
Marks and inscriptions
Verso: Inscribed on reverse of unlined canvas: 176
Makers and roles
Juan Bautista Martínez del Mazo (Beteta province of Cuenca c.1612 – Madrid 1667), artist
previously catalogued as attributed to Diego Velázquez (Seville 1599 - Madrid 1660), artist
Velázquez and the Family of Philip IV, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2013 - 2014, no.17
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.51
Céan Bermúdez 1800 J.A. Céan Bermúdez, Diccionario historico de los mas ilustres profesores de las bellas artes en España, Madrid, 1800, vol.I, p.xxiv & vol.V, p.172
Stirling 1848 William Stirling, Annals of the Artists of Spain, 1848, vol.II, p.652 & vol.III, p.1395 [as: "A finished sketch, or small repetition of (Las Meniñas)", by Velázquez; repeated, without correction — by then as Sir William Stirling-Maxwell, Bt. — in 2nd edn. vol.II, p.774 & vol.IV, p.1578]
Stirling 1855 William Stirling Velazquez and his Works, London, 1855, p.175
Waagen 1857 Gustav Waagen Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain, London, (supplementary to Waagen a 1854), 1857, p.381
Curtis 1883: C. B. Curtis, Velazquez and Murillo, London, 1883, pp.14—15, no.22
Jovellanos 1885 G.M. Jovellanos, 'Reflexiones y conjeturas sobra el boceto original del cuadro llamado La Familia' , in J. Somoza, Jovellanos:Nuevos datos para su biografia, Madrid, 1885, p.150
Justi 1888 Carl Justi, Diego Velazquez und sein Jahrhundert, Bonn, 1888, vol.II, pp.315—16
Maclarnon 1990 Kathleen Maclarnon, 'William Bankes and his collection of Spanish paintings at Kingston Lacy', The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXXII, February 1990, pp.114-25, pp.114, 121, 123 & 124
Harris, 1990: Enriqueta Harris. “Las Meninas at Kingston Lacy.” Burlington Magazine February 1990: pp.125-30.