A storyteller’s most powerful tool is their use of curiosity. Velazquez Diego uses this instrument to cut deep into the mind of the observer. He carefully designs a labyrinth of symbols and lures “our eyes inescapably into its depths” as said by art historian Analisa Leppanen. The painter uses revolutionary techniques such as deep staging to place characters at critical points on the canvas. This allows the viewers eye to explore the architecture of the image, which as a result ignites our problem solving brain.
A remarkable comparison between Las Meninas and its use of deep staging came to cinema in the 1940’s. With the introduction of wide-angle lenses and innovative lighting filmmakers realised they could also have characters and objects in focus at the same time. This became known as deep focus and was applied most captivatingly by directors John Ford and Orson Welles.
Notice that the ceiling is visible in Las Meninas and Citizen Kane, which both plunge into the background making a bold compositional line. This emphasised the distance between characters and allowed an audience to choose where to look.
This investigative quality had an engaging affect on our cerebral cortex or what’s commonly known as the problem solving brain. Neuroscientists would describe this pleasure as a rush of the neurotransmitter dopamine flooding our bodies. The brains unique reward system for following our curiosity. This profound pleasure allows an audience to connect to the art world and more importantly to one and other.
It’s difficult to imagine a time when painters were not seen as artists but as merely trade labour. Then again filmmakers were once shunned in the company of classical art such as theatre, literature and music. Velazquez included himself with paintbrush in hand to perhaps show his sincerity and importance to the Spanish court. Much like filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock who can be seen within the frames of his own work, a daring gesture of self-promotion in the face of Hollywood studios. Even today game designers, motion capture artists and 3D animators suffer the stings and blows of prejudice. Artists fight their own revolution for respect and recognition. Diego Velazquez was one such revolutionary.
1. Analisa Leppanen-Guerra, “Into the House of Mirrors: the Carnivalesque in Las Meninas.” Aurora: The Journal of the History of Art 1 (Nov. 2000): 60-77.
2. Stagecoach (1939) dir. John Ford.
3. Citizen Kane (1941) dir. Orson Welles.