Foucault, M.: "Las Meninas" from The order of things : an archaeology of the human sciences


Las Meninas

Foucault, Michel. "Las Meninas." The order of things : an archaeology of the human sciences. Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1994. 3-16. Print.

 


 

Chapter is an extended verbal description of  a painting. Points out perspective of spectator and especially the image within mirror, which is what the painter is ostensibly painting. Notes two sets of figures: those who the painter is looking at and those looking at the painter, commenting "these two groups of figures are both equally inaccessible, but in different ways; the first because of an effect of composition peculiar to the painting; the second because of the law that presides over the very existence of all pictures in general" (8).

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In part II, suggests using language to name, be more concrete-- the painting is by Velázquez; the figures of members of the court, those in the very background (the subject of the canvas that the artist in the painting is working on) are the king and queen.

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Makes it clear (as it was for me when first reading it without having the image to refer to) that the words are inadequate.

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Asks us to pretend not to know king and queen depicted in order to analyze the signs/symbols/ placement in painting (i.e., read it). Keeps reminding us that the image is a type of paradox "the entire picture is looking out at a scene for which it is itself a scene" (14). Points out that the "center" of the scene is the sovereign in three ways:

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for in it occurs an exact superimposition of the model''s gaze as it is being painted, of the spectator''s as he contemplates the painting, and of the painter''s as he is composing his picture (not the one represented, but the one in front of us which we are discussing). These three ''observing'' functions come together in a point exterior to the picture: that is, an ideal point in relation to what is represented but a perfectly real one too, since it is also the starting-point that makes the representation possible. (14-15)

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...ultimately, this is a mirror of sorts. Foucault questions if it is (paraphrase) ''the representation of Classical representation'' (16).  Now, to the big finish:

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But there, in the midst of this dispersion which it is simultaneously grouping together and spreading out before us, indicated compellingly from every side, is an essential void: the necessary disappearance of that which is its foundation--of the person it resembles and the person in whose eyes it is only a resemblance. This very subject-- which is the same-- has been elided. And representation, freed finally from the relation that was impeding it, can offer itself as representation in its purest form. (16)

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Do love the one note esconced at bottom of page-- "see frontspiece"-- now audience "given permission" to put image to words.