Contrasting & Comparative Analysis: “the Music Lesson” vs “Las Meninas”

Contrasting & Comparative Analysis During the Western European Baroque movement, Jan Vermeer and Diego Velazquez were two significant artists. “The Music Lesson” a painting by Vermeer and “Las Meninas”, a painting by Velazquez, compare significantly but also share contrasted traits. While both “Las Meninas” and “The Music Lesson” are defined by their use of mirroring, light and realism, the fundamental differences of both works are outlined by the artists use of subject matter, room decor or set up and the shift in foreground and background reflection; using indirect and direct perspective.

Both paintings express great contrast and comparison with one another whilst being both denotative and connotative in their description. Vermeer’s “The Music Lesson” is considered elegant, compositionally harmonious and well constructed. The piece itself shows a great depiction of depth through the illusion of perspective using light. “The Music Lesson” houses two figures; an older male figure, dressed elegantly in a black jacket trimmed with white lace and a younger female figure dressed in a navy and red gown with a white blouse.

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The female is denoted as the student of the male figure. To the viewer the painting also denotes a “The Music Lesson” being taught by the older man. This is shown in Vermeer’s use of illuminated instruments. The instruments include an old wooden boxed keyboard with black and golden detail painted on it. The female stands in front of the keyboard whilst her instructor examines her. A wooden cello rests on the ground behind the young woman. The cello although not being used is still considered an important item that references the theme of music and playing.

Vermeer uses domestic items in his paintings, such as the table cloth coloured in red and gold, the white vase adorned with gray shadows, the dark marble floor to emphasize a lived in space. Vermeer’s use of perspective in his work implements depth to both the walls and the marble floor. He uses it throughout the foreground and background to create separation between objects and the figures. The painting “Las Meninas” by Diego Velazquez, is a baroque derived, realist image.

The first aspect of the image that the observer is drawn to is the awkward stare of the young girl in the middle of the image. Around this central figure, one notices nine other subjects who are tending to the young female. The other characters included are two court midgets or otherwise known as jesters, a priest , a nun, what are considered the central figures older siblings or maids, a royal guard and oddly enough Velazquez. All the people within the image support that the young girl is that of royalty. The young girl is illuminated as the central figure of the piece.

The areas around her are darkened, thus increasing her importance. Her clothing is white, suggesting purity, youth and innocence. The gold on her outfit again denotes wealth. Within the piece there are many examples of clothing that signify status. The two female siblings or maids of honour are dressed in dark blacks and browns detailed in white lace. The jesters are both wearing red and black. The nun is wearing a traditional black and white gown while the royal guard in the background seems to be sporting a black jacket and black pants.

Velazquez, himself, is wearing a black jacket with white sleeves. In Velazquez including himself and the following subjects in his piece, he suggests this painting is being completed as royal commission or for that of someone who has royal authority. Various other objects found in the room that denote this a royal family portrait include the lush surface of the drapery, the gold trim on the door as well as the large walls and the massive paintings that are hanging on them. Referring back to his self portrait, Velazquez looks towards the viewer.

In his use of the gaze being expressed by both himself and the young girl, he invites the viewer into the work, connotating that he wishes for one to see what is being developed on his secret canvas. The use of perspective in “Las Meninas” suggests a sense of depth with light that has been exaggerated on the drapery and the exaggeration of shadows on the walls behind everyone. He includes a mirror found on the back wall. There is an indirect reflection of a couple, denoted as the parents of the young girl.

With the use of mirror on mirror, using himself as a reflection in the foreground as well as the glass image in the distance, Velazquez has created the sense of entering the canvas for the viewer. After observing the paintings it is clear that both Vermeer and Velazquez use corresponding similarities such as perspective, mirroring aspects, use of light and the human figure. Through the use of perspective both paintings have great illusion of depth, allowing the viewer to feel like they are part of the composition.

In Vermeer’s piece the viewer is drawn in from the marbled floor and the wall which houses the windows. This connects the viewer to the back wall. In Velazquez’s work, the observer is placed right in front of the young lady who is staring at them. However in his use of mirroring himself in the image behind his canvas he makes the viewer feel like they are in the same room as that of the composition. The mirroring technique used by both artists’ referrers to the reflection of an object or subject in another part of the image depicting a dual reality and sensation.

In ““The Music Lesson”” Vermeer reflects the image of the young female by repeating it in both the mirror above her keyboard, where she stares at her instructor, as well as in the marble flooring beneath her. Likewise, Velazqyuez also reflects figures in his background mirror, denoted as the king and queen and dually also includes himself as a mirrored figure. Finally light is used to describe depth and perspective in either piece. In Vermeer’s canvas the observer notices how light cascades through the windows, hitting the objects in the foreground and background creating subtle values amongst them.

The light outlines the figures and the flowing folds in their clothing along with the ripples created in the fabric draped on the table. The use of light is also recognized in Velazquez’s painting. Light shines from the front right window and where door frame is shown in the background. It too describes the shadows and depth of the fabrics, clothing and objects in the piece. In these descriptions of perspective, light and mirroring one can recognize clear similarities in Vermeer’s and Velazquez’s paintings.

Both paintings obtain multiple interpretations of their true meaning, and the techniques used to create the piece contrast significantly. Vermeer has implemented a mirrored reflection as previously noted. The mirrored image is a direct depiction of the figure as she stands underneath the reflective surface. Her body suggests she is concentrated on her practice, however, her reflection suggests she is looking at her instructor. In Velazquez’s, the viewer is shown an image of the king and queen indicated in the background.

They are reproduced indirectly in the mirror; they are not physically shown as part of the image whereas in Vermeer’s piece one can see the subject being indicated. Both artists use perspective in their imagery. Vermeer uses of absolute perspective which is developed through the use of the camera obscura allowing him to see true image and perspective (Brommer, 354). Velazquez did not have access to this device, thus throwing off his perspective making him rely on multiple subject matters to take up most of the foreground in the image.

Finally in contrasting these images one can identify that Vermeer shy’s away from the obvious reference to wealth. He keeps his subject matter and room decor simple and minimal whereas Velazquez emphasises a direct connection to royalty through his use of exaggerated clothing, the central figures accompanists and the large scale paintings encompassing the wall space in the background. In the artist’s use of varying subject matter, perspective techniques and reference to status the viewer can clearly identify significant differences found in both pieces.

After observing the work of Velazquez and Vermeer the viewer can comprehend what has been contrasted and compared in “The Music Lesson” and “Las Meninas”. With this aspect truly determined and defined this showcases how the fundamentals of mirroring, light, realism, subject matter, to the foreground and the background reflection and the indirect and direct perspective relate and differ to the work. Through this the viewer can appreciate the detailed understanding of the works. [ 1448 ]

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