Monday, April 17, 2006

Borges, the Prado, and I

On March 15, I sent the following question about Velazquez's Las Meninas to the Prado by email.

In his essay, "When Fiction Lives in Fiction", Jorge Luis Borges describes his encounter with the painting, recalling that "the Prado's adminstrators had installed a mirror in front of the painting to perpetuate [its reflexive] enchantments." Is this also how the painting is currently displayed? Is there any record of that way of hanging it? Also, has the painting ever been displayed by setting it on the floor like the canvas depicted in the painting itself?

On April 6, I got a reply.

Efectivamente, hasta 1976 el cuadro "Las Meninas" se exhibía en una sala pequeña, con un espejo al fondo y una ventana entreabierta, que proyectaba la misma luz y en la misma dirección que la ventana que aparece en el cuadro. El cuadro estaba situado a una altura que situaba los ojos de Velázquez a la altura de los ojos del espectador. Con este montaje se pretendía recrear la atmósfera que hay en el cuadro e integrar al espectador dentro del espacio creado entre el cuadro y el espejo, en un efecto muy teatral y barroco.

Babel Fish translates this as:

Indeed, until 1976 the picture "the Meninas" was exhibited in a small room, with a mirror to the bottom and a half-opened window, that the same light and in the same direction projected that the window that appears in the picture. The picture was located to a height that located the eyes of Velazquez to the height of the eyes of the spectator. With this assembly it was tried to recreate the atmosphere that there is in the picture and to integrate to the spectator within the space created between the picture and the mirror, in a very theater and baroque effect.

If anyone can improve that translation, I'd be very grateful.

[Update: Effectively until 1976 the painting Las Meninas was exhibited in a small room, with a mirror at one end and an open window that projected the same light in the same direction as the window that appears in the painting. The painting is situated at a height that places Velazquez's eyes at the same height as the spectator's eyes. With this set-up they attempted to recreate the atmosphere in the painting and to integrate the spectator in the space created between the painting and the mirror, in a very theatrical and baroque effect. (Thanks, Stower.)]

In any case, what I find interesting about this is that Michel Foucault, who seems to have seen the painting sometime before 1966, managed to feel his subjectivity not integrated but "elided" under these (almost) ideal conditions.

I'll explain that "(almost)" in a later post. I have myself never been to the Prado.

2 comments:

stower said...

Effectively until 1976 the painting Las Meninas was exhibited in a small room, with a mirror at one end and an open window that projected the same light in the same direction as the window that appears in the painting. The painting is situated at a height that places Velazquez's eyes at the same height as the spectator's eyes. With this set-up they attempted to recreate the atmosphere in the painting and to integrate the spectator in the space created between the painting and the mirror, in a very theatrical and baroque effect.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Thanks, Stower.