Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Selection of Some of my More Eclectic Stuff

Smoochy Fish Face Pucker Girl, watercolor on Rives BFK 8 x 10 inches by Kenney Mencher $38.00 USD

The Vatican from the Renaissance to the Baroque

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Form:  This small temple is a kind of cross between the Pantheon and the Parthenon.  It has a dome and is a central plan like the Pantheon but uses a different order, the Doric as in the Parthenon.  It is also contained within a small courtyard that was not part of its original design.   Originally, the building was to be placed in a circular colonnaded courtyard which was designed to "set off" the design of the temple itself.   According to the Brittanica, the building was "specifically inspired by the temple of Vesta at Tivoli."

Iconography:  The use of a classical design that refers back to the Parthenon and Pantheon is designed to give the building an antique and therefore authoritative and classic feel.  The circular shape is almost like a target from above and would have been even more powerful as an icon if Bramante's original plans had been followed.  As it is, the buildings shape and design are also very appropriate because the symmetrical design plays into its function which was to focus the attention of the monument on the site where St. Peter was supposedly martyred.

 Donato Bramante, Tempietto.
in the courtyard of San Pietro in Montorio in Rome
1502 Italian Renaissance

Context:  The construction of the Tempietto was commissioned by Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain.  It's name is actually an affectionate kind of nickname.  Tempietto is an Italian nickname for small temple.

This building is specifically important in terms of context because it allowed Bramante to explore some ideas that he would later on use in his design of St. Peter's Cathedral which was rebuilt, at least at first, in central style plan.

The Original Plan for St. Peter's from 315 CE looked nothing like it does now.
Review of St. Peter's Original Plan
 Context: In 313 AD the Roman general, Constantine, possibly sensing the change in religious climate, had a miraculous dream and after his victory over Maxentius he adopted Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire with his "edict of Milan."  After this happened, Roman Christians naturally adopted the traditional Roman art and architectural styles for use in the worship of Christianity. "Basilica" is a Greek word meaning "honored" and it is possible that for this reason one of the most used architectural form is the basilican plan which was used in the design of Christian churches. 
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Old St. Peter's Basilica was the 
first basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, a five-aisled basilican-plan church with apsed transept at the west end that was begun between 326 and 333 at the order of the Roman emperor Constantine and finished about 30 years later. The church was entered through an atrium called Paradise that enclosed a garden with fountains. From the atrium there were five doors into the body of the church. The nave was terminated by an arch with a mosaic of Constantine, accompanied by St. Peter, presenting a model of his church to Christ. On the clerestory walls, each pierced by 11 windows, were frescoes of the patriarchs, prophets, and Apostles and scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Old St. Peter's was torn down in the early 16th century and replaced by New St. Peter's 
Form:  Although the overall plan and rising windowed nave adhere to the standard Roman basilican plan, the main differences between St. Peters Basilica and Constantine's were the materials and the technology.  Old St. Peter's Basilica was not as lavish.  Initially it had a post and beam design made of timbers rather than the groin vault and stone and concrete arches used in Constantine's basilica.

The original building was torn down and new one was designed by Donato Bramante in 1502 to replace it. 

Bramante 1506 (Upper left)
Sangallo c1510-1540? (upper right)
Michelangelo c1546 (middle left)
Giaccomo della Porta 1590
Carlo Maderno 1607-15  (middle right)
Bernini 1637 (bottom)

Form:  The Plan of St. Peter's goes through several radical changes over time.  It started as a basilican tau plan ("T" shaped) in 315 CE.   When Pope Julius ordered the original building torn down Bramante designed the building to be based on a Greek cross central plan.  Unfortunately, Bramante's design was a little unstable and Sangallo redesigned the plan.  Sangallo and Michelangelo both thickened up the walls and slightly simplified Bramante's original design.

Michelangelo also redesigned the dome and the facade of the structure.  His design was to create a more egg shaped or pointed dome than Bramante's original design because the shallow half sphere of Bramante's design was structurally a bit unstable.  Michelangelo's design was then completed by Giaccomo della Porta in 1590.

Carlo Maderno in 1607-15 didn't so much redesign the building but add to it.  Maderno lengthened the nave of the cathedral converting it from a central plan to a Latin cross basilican plan which makes the building appear as a crucifix from above.


Bernini's arms were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655-67).  Bernini created the egg shaped atrium/plaza that are the "arms" of St. Peters.  The shape of the entire structure then appears to look like a key from above.

This bronze medal from the British Museum
has an image of what Bramante originally had planned for 
St. Peter's in 1506.

Bramante 1506 (Upper left)
Sangallo c1510-1540? (upper right)
Michelangelo c1546 (middle left)
Giaccomo della Porta 1590
Carlo Maderno 1607-15  (middle right)
Bernini 1650's (bottom)

The brick dome 138 feet in diameter rises 452 feet above the street, and 390 feet above the floor, with four iron chains for a compression ring. Four internal piers each 60 feet square.The dome is 452 ft high (above the pavement) and is buttressed by the apses and supported internally by four massive piers more than 18 meters (60 feet) thick. —taken from John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of The World. p153.
"The medal by Caradosso (1506) and the partial plan drawn by Bramante (in the Uffizi, Florence), probably represent the earliest stage of the design, before the difficulties appeared which obliged the architect and his successors to propose, and in some cases implement, numerous changes. These changes related not only to the general conception of the plan—first a Greek cross, then a Latin one—but also to the plan of the transepts, which at one time were to have ambulatories; to the role of the Orders, first purely decorative (Bramante), then structural (Raphael, Michelangelo); and to the construction and shape of the dome, first with a single masonry shell (Bramante), then a double one (Sangallo, Michelangelo). The piers at the crossing, which were intended to support the dome, were one of the biggest problems; too slender in Bramante's plan, they were frequently reinforced... In the 17th century further important modifications were made by Bernini when he created the great colonnade that encircles the Piazza San Pietro." —John Julius Norwich, ed. The World Atlas of Architecture. p276.

Bramante presenting his 
model to Julius

Here's what Sangallo's version of St. Peter's would have looked like based on his model.
Models were not toys in the Renaissance. They were working experiments in which the architects tried out ideas, explained concepts, competed for commissions and instructed their workmen. At a time when paper was still something of a novelty and masons could be illiterate, models were more important to the actual building process than were plans. Dozens of models were used in a major work of construction. Most of these were destroyed after their period of usefulness was over. But some lavish ones created for display have survived--including the colossal model, built to the design of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger, for St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.  Sangallo's team, made up of highly skilled craftsmen led by Antonio Labacco, spent seven years on this detailed study of every major structural and decorative element in a church that was never built. Michelangelo changed the design after Sangallo's death--two of Michelangelo's own models for parts of the revised church were also in the show. 
The occasion for the show was the careful restoration of the Sangallo model, which itself took three years. Rotted wood was replaced with synthetic materials, stains were removed, delicate railings were re-created. Some things were not replaced--the paint imitating stucco and travertine, the row of statues around the lower tier of the dome, the metope reliefs in the frieze that runs around the whole structure, and various candelabra. But the basic elements are now restored, and are stunning. Vast quantities of fir, lime, elm and apricot were turned, carved, stamped and fitted with endless patience and ingenuity. The restored model was first taken to Venice, where most of the surviving Renaissance models were displayed around it in the Palazzo Grassi. Only half of these 28 models accompanied Sangallo's masterpiece to America. 
MICHELANGELO ON THE MALL ,  By: Wills, Garry, Civilization, May/Jun95, Vol. 2 Issue 3, p52, 6p
For more on the exhibit and more pictures, visit:

 Quoted directly from 
 "St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002. 
Protected by the fortified Castel Sant'Angelo, St. Peter's Basilica and the Vatican Palace gained precedence over the cathedral church and Lateran Palace during the papacy's troubled centuries. St. Peter's was built over the traditional burial place of the Apostle from whom all popes claim succession. The spot was marked by a three-niched monument (aedicula) of AD 166-170. Excavations in 1940-49 revealed well-preserved catacombs, with both pagan and Christian graves dating from the period of St. Peter's burial.
Constantine enclosed the aedicula within a shrine and during the last 15 years of his life (died 337) built his basilica around it. The shrine was sheltered by a curved open canopy supported by four serpentine pillars that he brought from the Middle East. The design, enormously magnified, was followed in making the baldachin (1623-33) over today's papal altar.
In spite of fires, depredations by invaders, and additions by various popes, the original basilica stood for 1,000 years much as it had been built, but in 1506 Julius II ordered it razed and a new St. Peter's built. His architect was Donato Bramante, a Florentine who in 1502 had completed the first great masterpiece of the High Renaissance, the Tempietto in the courtyard of S. Pietro in Montorio, a mile away on the Janiculum Hill. Built to mark the spot where, according to tradition, St. Peter had been crucified, the Tempietto is round, domed, and unadorned. Its outer face is a colonnade of bare Tuscan Doric, the earliest modern use of this order. Because of its proportions, the tiny temple has the majesty of a great monument.
"St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002.


Michelangelo's Plan
Michelangelo's dome completed by della Porta


Bramante's ground plan for St. Peter's was central: a Greek cross, all of the arms of which are equal, around a central dome. Both he and the Pope died before much could be built. Successive architects, including Raphael, drew fresh plans. The last of them, Antonio da Sangallo, died in 1546, and the 71-year-old Michelangelo was solicited to complete Sangallo's projects, which included St. Peter's, the Palazzo Farnese, and the Capitol. He accepted but refused payment for his work on the basilica.
Michelangelo adapted Bramante's original plan, the effect being more emotional and mighty, less classically serene. Of the exterior, only the back of the church, visible from the Vatican Gardens, and the dome are Michelangelo's. After his death Giacomo della Porta and Domenico Fontana, who executed the dome, altered the shape, making it taller and steeper than the original design.
The east end remained unfinished, and it was there that Carlo Maderno was ordered to construct a nave, the clergy having won its century-long battle to have a longitudinal church for liturgical reasons. Thus, St. Peter's orientation reverses the normal. Maderno added a Baroque facade in 1626. He was followed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who worked on the building from 1633 to 1677, both inside and outside. His pontifical crowd-funnelling colonnade in the shape of a keyhole around the piazza, a fountain for the piazza, the breathtaking baldachin, his several major pieces of sculpture, his interior arrangements for the church, and his dazzling Scala Regia (Royal Stair) to the Vatican exhibit his legendary technical brilliance and his masterful showman's flair. Before the lamentable assault in 1972, which damaged the sculptural masterpiece, one could enter the church and, in the first chapel at the right, see the "Pieta" (1499) of Michelangelo in the original splendor.

All the planning, plotting, labor, and faith of all the popes, priests, artists, and artisans produced a vast, gorgeous ceremonial chamber. Amid the gleam and glitter of gold and bronze and precious stones eddy throngs of awed, dwarfed humanity. 

 "St. Peter's."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 30, 2002.

Michelangelo's Design
Form:  Carlo Maderno in 1607-15 didn't so much redesign the building but add to it.  Maderno lengthened the nave of the cathedral converting it from a central plan to a Latin cross basilican plan which makes the building appear as a crucifix from above.
Iconography:  Maderno's redesign is symbolic of several things.  First, it is a kind of assertion of Maderno as an artist and architect that he is remodeling the design of such greats as Bramante and Michelangelo.  It is a kind of arrogant display of power.  Almost like when gangs spray paint over the "tags" of other gangs.
The iconography is also symbolic of Catholic ideas.  The redesign is almost a rejection of the central church plan and a return to basic Christian iconography.  The Reformation had already occurred and in some ways, images of the crucifixion and of the crucifix are intrinsic to the Catholic conception of Christianity.  The Church and Christ's sacrifice, symbolized by the symbol of the crucifixion are symbolic that this is the portal to God.

Form: Bernini's arms were commissioned by Pope Alexander VII (1655-67).   Originally it was meant to be a completed ellipse that surrounded the piazza however, it was never completed.
Iconography: Bernini created the egg shaped atrium/plaza that are the "arms" of St. Peters.  Instead of using the traditional circle as the form, Bernini creates a "baroque" twist to the schema by making the shape an ellipse.
The addition of this ellipse to the overall program of buildings changes the shape of the complex as a whole.  The entire structure then appears to look like a key (which is the symbol of Peter's role in the Church) from above.  Bernini also conceived of the arms as a symbol of St. Peter's arms embracing the faithful.  See his drawing at right.

Form:  Maderno's facade is almost the perfect example of the term "Baroque."  It is extremely complex and uses a classical vocabulary but with some very Mannerist twists.  The facade of the structure is really a combination of two facades.  The pediment above the central doors is too far down the building.  This is very similar to Palladio's design for the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Begun 1566.
Initially the facade appears to have a symmetrical standard formula for Corinthian order buildings but over all the combination of the forms is irregular.

The facade is not one straight line across.  Instead the building undulates and shifts backwards and forwards in an irregular almost unpredictable pattern.  There are doubled columns combined with flattened pilasters.  The undulation of the facade is a little disorienting and creates a dramatic play of light and shadow across the facade which augmented by the facade's color which is two toned.  The top of the building is a different color than the bottom.

Bernini, St. Peter's, The Baldacchino 1624-1633

 Form: According to the Brittanica, Bernini's,  
famous immense gilt-bronze baldachin executed between 1624 and 1633. Its twisted columns derive from the early Christian columns that had been used in the altar screen of Old St. Peter's. Bernini's most original contribution to the final work is the upper framework of crowning volutes flanked by four angels that supports the orb and cross. The baldachin is perfectly proportioned to its setting, and one hardly realizes that it is as tall as a four-story building. Its lively outline moving upward to the triumphant crown, its dark colour heightened with burning gold, give it the character of a living organism. An unprecedented fusion of sculpture and architecture, the baldachin is the first truly Baroque monument. It ultimately formed the centre of a programmatic decoration designed by Bernini for the interior of St. Peter's.
The ornamentation and use of different materials is an excellent example of the Baroque style.  The overall form is of a tent like canopy that is cast in bronze.  The materials, bronze gilded with gold trim, is a striking and almost gaudy use of materials.  The columns are classical but literally with a "twist."  Atop the structure are banners adorned with the "Barbarini bees" (the Pope's family's coat of arms.)  Above that is a kind of diorama like scene of winged victory figures and cherubs that carry the papal crown as if they are about to descend and crown Peter. Iconography:  The size and use of precious materials is a conspicuous consumption of materials which heightens its value.  In fact, tour guides tell the story that Bernini ran out of bronze for its construction and the pope authorized him to remove and melt down the doors of the Pantheon for bronze.  The tour guides say, "Whatever the barbarians didn't destroy, the Barbarini did."
The structure was built over the crossing of the nave and transept, under the central dome and above the mortal remains of St. Peter, the first Pope.  The form of the tent probably is symbolic of the relationship of the first Jewish temple, which was in a tent, and the first Christian basilica St. Peter's.
(The baldachin) also spelled Baldachino, or Baldaquin, also called Ciborium, in architecture, is the canopy over an altar or tomb, supported on columns, especially when freestanding and disconnected from any enclosing wall. The term originates from the Spanish baldaquin, an elaborately brocaded material imported from Baghdad that was hung as a canopy over an altar or doorway. Later it came to stand for a freestanding canopy over an altar.
This probably also accounts for the cherub who floats above symbolically waiting to crown St. Peter below.

According to the Brittanica,
Bernini's most spectacular religious decoration is the Throne of St. Peter, or the Cathedra Petri (1657-66), a gilt-bronze cover for the medieval wooden throne (cathedra) of the pope. Bernini's task was not only to make a decorative cover for the chair but also to create a meaningful goal in the apse of St. Peter's for the pilgrim's journey through the great church. The seat is seemingly supported by four imposing bronze figures representing theological doctors of the early church: Saints Ambrose, Athanasius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine. Above, a golden glory of angels on clouds and rays of light emanates from the Dove of the Holy Spirit, which is painted on an oval window. The cathedra was produced about the same time as the piazza, and the contrast between these two works shows Bernini's versatility. Both works were done for the Chigi pope, Alexander VII (1655-67), who was one of Bernini's greatest patrons. The tomb that Bernini designed for Alexander VII (1671-78; St. Peter's) was largely executed by his pupils.
Notice how this is very similar in its use of Baroque forms and materials to the Baldachino above.  The work is a multi media work of art.  The chair is bronze, the clouds and cherubs are made out of stucco and or plaster that has been gilded with gold and the rays of light bursting from the stain glass window are wooden rods coated with gold leaf.  Even the use of the stain glass window is part of Bernini's use of dramatic lighting which may have been influenced by the use of dramatic lighting in some paintings and possibly even the opera.  Beneath the chair and the figures of the saints is the altar which is made out of different colored marbles and granites.  In the Renaissance period, this eclectic use of materials would have been considered anti classical and too ornate, however, during the Baroque period, heightened drama and ornamentation is commonplace. 

Bernini. Throne of St. Peter, or the Cathedra Petri (1657-66)

James Rieck's newest body of work, "ColorSafe,"

I thought I'd share this it seems like a really cool painting. The subject matters close to my heart.
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James Rieck


October 9 - November 8, 2014
James Rieck, Lighter Color Combinations 
2014, Oil on canvas, 64 x 54 in / 162.5 x 137 cm
Opening Reception
Thursday, October 96-8pm
James Rieck's newest body of work, "ColorSafe," is a continuation of his earlier paintings sourced from clothing catalogs but with a focus on color and pattern. These 'vintage' images come with all sorts of inferred ideas about the aspirations of the American dream, often from a white, middle-class, conservative perspective. Rieck's paintings are constructed from images used by mainstream department store catalogs from the late 1960s / early 70s. This was a particularly turbulent time for social change in this country, yet here on the pages of these traditional catalogs, where time often seems to stand still (frozen), a shift was taking place. This was a new era in American history, where white models and models of color were standing side-by-side in equal status as if they were friends and having fun - posing in pairs, laughing, joking and sharing secrets.  Given the racial divides of the time, were they just acting/modeling then or was there actual camaraderie? Did we believe them, or did we just want to believe them? Rieck conceptualizes these idyllic moments via the loaded content about race and class that ensues. Issues that we as a culture are still working through today. Read more

James Rieck earned both his MFA and his BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art and attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland. Rieck's paintings have been exhibited across the United States. Museum and group shows include: "We Could Be Heroes: The Mythology of Monsters and Heroes in Contemporary Art" at Brigham Young University, Provo, UT, "Size Does Matters," curated by Shaquille O'Neal, the Flag Foundation, New York, "As Others See Us: The Contemporary Portrait," Brattleboro Museum, VT, and at the Corcoran Museum, Washington, DC. His work is present in the Burger Collection, the Bollag-Rothschild Collection, Switzerland, and the Chadha Collection, The Netherlands, among others. James Rieck lives and works in Los Angeles and has been represented by Lyons Wier Gallery since 2003.

Click here to view images from the exhibition
Colored Cotton Blends 2014, Oil on canvas 
54 x 64 in
With Like Colors  
2014, Oil on canvas 
54 x 64 in
Mixed Colorful Separates 2014, Oil on canvas 
54 x 64 in
In Your Choice of Colors 2014, Oil on canvas 
54 x 64 in

Also on view in our Project Gallery

October 9 - November 8, 2014
Chris Cosnowski, Nike with Slit Skirt
2014, Oil on panel ,70 x 40 in / 177.8 x 101.6 cm

Chris Cosnowski is known for his impeccable, photorealist paintings of trophies, mass-produced plastic toys and figurines. The painstaking process he employs embues his work with an undercurrent of irony and humor, elevating the objects' vernacular to create icons that enkindle the viewer's intellect as much as their nostalgia.

Cosnowski received his MFA in Painting from Northwestern University and his BFA from Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, OH. His work has been exhibited in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and London and has appeared in publications such as New American Paintings, American Art Collector and Chicago Magazine.  He lives and works in Chicago.

ARTIST TALK w/Chris Cosnowski

Friday, October 10th, 4.30-6.00pm
Queens Central Library
89-11 Merrick Blvd
Jamaica, NY 11432


For more information & availability, contact:
542 West 24th Street, New York, 10011
Gallery Hours: Tues - Sat, 11am- 6pm

Sunday, September 28, 2014


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Velázquez 1599-1660 
Pope Innocent X (the Tenth) 1650
oil on canvas 
c. 1650
Oil on canvas, 141 x 119 cm
Galleria Doria-Pamphili, Rome
Spanish, Baroque

Form: First and foremost Velázquez is a portrait painter who demonstrates his ability to capture the likeness of his sitters.  One can see that he does this by looking at the range of portraits of King Philip and how the likeness of his faces are consistent throughout his images. This portrait demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as  chiaroscuro although in his portraits he tend to use more frontal lighting.  His brushstrokes are visible in this painting and the paint is laid in thick impastos.  Velázquez is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that look almost unfinished when viewed up close.  The calligraphic brushwork is also a type of conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) often referred to as a bravura handling of paint or bravura brushstrokes.  Velázquez also has a fine command of painting drapery.
 Mention has often been made of the chromatic unity of this portrait, in which the red flesh tones, the red cape, the red camauro, and the armchair of red velvet against the backdrop of a red door create such a dramatic effect that, if the pope were to open his mouth, even his saliva would be blood red. This marvelously orchestrated profusion of crimson tints - sometimes, as in the cape, with cold reflections as if "lit by neon" - undoubtedly derives from the example of Titian, while the representation of the contrasting white gown certainly harks back to Veronese, the only sixteenth-century Venetian painter who knew how to handle this difficult "non-colour." A man of power, bolt upright, depicted in magenta, an aggressive and vital colour, that together with white symbolizes creation.

Iconography and Context:
"He was tall in stature, thin, choleric, splenetic, with a red face, bald in front with thick eyebrows bent above the nose [...], that revealed his severity and harshness...". These were the words used by Giacinto Gigli in 1655 to describe the pope (Giovanni Battista Pamphilj [1574-1655], made a cardinal in 1629 and elected to the throne on September 16, 1644), adding that "his face was the most deformed ever born among men." Justi and later Morelli considered his head "the most repugnant... of all the Fisherman's successors" and "insignificant, indeed vulgar," with an expression similar to "that of a cunning lawyer." And yet this ugly and sullen man was paradoxically the subject of one of the most admired portraits of the seventeenth century, and perhaps of all time. The portrait of Pope Innocent X is by common consent one of the world's supreme masterpieces of portraiture, unsurpassed in its breathtaking handling of paint and so incisive in characterization that the pope himself said the picture was 'troppo vero' (too truthful).

According to the Brittanica,
This portrait, which has long been Velázquez' most famous painting outside Spain, was copied innumerable times and won him immediate and lasting renown in Italy. In 1650 he was made a member of the Accademia di San Luca (Academy of St. Luke) and of the Congregazione dei Virtuosi al Pantheon, Rome's two most prestigious organizations of artists. The portrait earned for him the Pope's support for his application for membership of the most exclusive Spanish military order, though the difficulties arising from the fact that he was not of noble birth were so great that he did not receive the habit of the Order of Santiago until 1659. "Second Italian journey."   Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   December 26, 2002


Diego Velázquez. Water Carrier of Seville. c1619
oil on canvas 42"x31.75" Wellington Museum London Spanish Baroque

Form: This genre scene/portrait incorporates a low key or earth toned palette combined with a very close point of view.  Velázquez demonstrates a good mastery of the human face as well as  chiaroscuro .  He also uses an intense spotlight on the faces and clothing creating hard edges where the contours of the figures meet the dark background while the shadowed sides of the figures seem to merge with the background.  The brushstrokes are more visible in this painting and the paint is laid in thick impastos.  Velázquez is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that look almost unfinished when viewed up close.  The calligraphic brushwork is also a type of conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) often referred to as a bravura handling of paint or bravura brushstrokes.  The clear vessel of water, as in Caravaggio's Boy Being Bitten by a Lizard, is a concetto  because painting a transparent vessel is one of the harder things to paint.  Velázquez also has a fine command of painting drapery. Velázquez is really quite masterful in his depiction chiaroscuro and understanding of the physics of light.  Compare the clay vessels to the chiaroscuro sphere and you will see this.  He also uses light to establish a rhythm in which the figure of the water seller in the foreground is the most brightly lit and as the figures recede into the background the light diminishes.
The figures and the vessels in this painting are placed in such a way that they echo the light which rakes in from the upper left hand corner and this compliments the strong diagonal across the picture plane.  The use of a diagonal in the composition of the picture plane is a very Baroque device.

Iconography: Water sellers in Italy and Spain were people who would carry water around in clay jugs that would filter the water and provide it with some flavor.  Since water was at times a little ways away to a fountain the water seller served a convenience almost similar to our modern day paper boys or itinerant window washers.  This painting is a genre scene that is not just a snapshot of daily life but also meant as kind of memento mori because the water seller is providing a momentary pleasure and a reminder of one's place in the cosmic scheme of things.  The water seller with his humble occupation as a kind of upscale beggar allows us to give charity and therefore satisfy some of the basic tenets of Christianity.

Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9' 
Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Spanish Baroque
  Form: First and foremost this painting is a portrait and Velázquez demonstrates his ability to capture the likeness of his sitters.  One can see that he does this by looking at the range of portraits of Margarita and how the likenesses of her faces are consistent throughout his images.
This massive oil painting contains life size figures.  Velázquez clearly demonstrates that he has a command on all the technical tricks and gimmicks that have been developed in the last 300 years of painting. He a mastery over portraiture, perspective, chiaroscuro, tenebrism, demonstrates  the depiction of human anatomy and drapery.  All this and he goes a bit beyond it with some tricks concerning the mirror in the background and the placement of the figures in the picture plane.
The brushstrokes are more visible in this painting and the paint is laid in thick impastos.  Velázquez is particularly well known for his "quick" and showy brushstrokes that look almost unfinished when viewed up close.  The calligraphic brushwork is also a type of conceit or concetto (italian for conceit) often referred to as a bravura handling of paint or bravura brushstrokes.

  If you look in the far background you can see that there appears to be a painting of a man and a woman.  This is the King and Queen however, it is not a painting.  Notice that it's glowing a bit.  That's because it is really supposed to be a mirror.
This computer image pulls the mirror image out and shows you what the King and Queen may have been posing like.

What Velázquez was doing was demonstrating his ability to think about form, content, and visual illusion in one continuous manner.  The scene that Velázquez is really painting is what the King and Queen see as they pose for their portrait.  The image on the right shows how that works.


Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9' Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Spanish Baroque
(The following text is from Kenneth Clark, "Looking at Pictures")
"Our first feeling is of being there. We are standing just to the right of the King and Queen, whose reflections we can see in the distant mirror, looking down an austere room in the Alcazar (hung with del Mazo's copies of Rubens) and watching a familiar situation. The Infanta Dona Margarita doesn't want to pose. She has been painted by Velázquez ever since she could stand. She is now five years old, and she has had enough. But this is to be something different; an enormous picture, so big that it stands on the floor, in which she is going to appear with her parents; and somehow the Infanta must be persuaded. Her ladies-in-waiting, known by the Portuguese name of meninas, are doing their best to cajole her, and have brought her dwarfs, Maribarbola and Nicolasito, to amuse her. But in fact they alarm her almost as much as they alarm us, and it will be some time before the sitting can take place. So far as we know, the huge official portrait was never painted.
      "After all that has been written about the nature of art, it seems rather absurd to begin by considering a great picture as a record of something that really happened. I can't help it. That is my first impression, and I should be slightly sceptical of anyone who said that they felt anything else. Of course, we do not have to look for long before recognizing that the world of appearances has been politely put in its place. The canvas has been divided into quarters horizontally and sevenths vertically. The meninas and the dwarfs form a triangle of which the base is one-seventh of the way up, and the apex is four-sevenths; and within the large triangle are three subsidiary ones, of which the little Infanta is the centre. But these and other devices were commonplaces of workshop tradition. Any Italian hack of the seventeenth century could have done the same, and the result would not have interested us. The extraordinary thing is that these calculations are subordinate to an absolute sense of truth. Nothing is emphasised, nothing forced. Instead of showing us with a whoop of joy how clever, how perceptive or how resourceful he is, Velázquez leaves us to make all these discoveries for ourselves. He does not beckon to the spectator any more than he flatters the sitter. Spanish pride? Well, we have only to imagine the Meninas painted by Goya, who, heaven knows, was Spanish enough, to realise that Velázquez' reserve transcends nationality. His attitude of mind, scrupulous and detached, respecting our feelings and scorning our opinions, might have been encountered in the Greece of Sophocles or the China of Wang Wei.

      "It seems almost vulgar to ask what he was like, he so carefully effaced himself behind his works; and in fact it is chiefly from them that we must deduce his character. Like Titian, he shows no signs of impulsiveness or non-conformity, and like Titian, his life was apparently one of unbroken success. But there the likeness ends. He lives at a different temperature. We read of no passions, no appetites, no human failings; and equally there are no sensuous images burning in the back of his mind. When he was quite a young man he achieved once or twice a poetic intensity of vision, as in his Immaculate Conception, but this passed, as it so often does; or perhaps I should say that it was absorbed into his pursuit of the whole.
      "He was born in 1599, and commended himself to the King as early as 1623. Thenceforward he rose steadily in the Court service. His all-powerful patron, the Count-Duke of Olivares, was dismissed in 1643, and in the same year Velázquez was promoted to be a Gentleman of the Bedchamber, an Assistant Superintendent of Works and, in 1658, to the horror of the official classes, he was invested with the Order of Santiago. Two years later he died. There is evidence that the royal family regarded him as a friend, yet we read of none of the cabals and jealousies which distorted the lives of Italian painters of the same date. Modesty and sweetness of character would not have been enough to protect him. He must have been a man of remarkable judgement. His mind was occupied almost entirely with problems of painting, and in this, too, he was fortunate, for he had formed a clear idea of what he wanted to do. It was extremely difficult, it took him thirty years of steady work;, and in the end he achieved it.
      "His aim was simply to tell the whole truth about a complete visual impression. Italian theorists, following antiquity, had claimed that this was the end of art as early as the fifteenth century; but they had never really believed it; in fact, they had always qualified it by talking about grace, grandeur, correct proportions and other abstract concepts. Consciously or unconsciously they all believed in the Ideal, and thought that art must bring to perfection what nature had left in the raw. This is one of the most defensible theories of aesthetics ever proposed, but it had no appeal to the Spanish mind. 'History', said Cervantes, 'is something sacred because it is true, and where truth is, God is, truth being an aspect of divinity.' Velázquez recognised the value of ideal art. He bought antiquities for the royal collection, he copied Titian, he was the friend of Rubens. But none of this deflected him from his aim, to tell the whole truth about what he saw.

      "To some extent this was a technical problem. It is not very difficult to paint a small inanimate object so that it seems real. But when one begins to paint a figure in its setting 'Oh alors!' as Degas said. And to paint a whole group on a large scale in such a way that no one seems too prominent, each is easily related to the other, and all breathe the same air: that requires a most unusual gift.
      "As we look about us, our eyes proceed from point to point, and whenever they come to rest they are focussed in the centre of an oval pool of colour which grows vaguer and more distorted towards the perimeter. Each focal point involves us in a new set of relations; and to paint a complex group like the Meninas, the painter must carry in his head a single consistent scale of relations which he can apply throughout. He may use all kinds of devices to help him do this - perspective is one of them - but ultimately the truth about a complete visual impression depends on one thing, truth of tone. Drawing may be summary, colour drab, but if the relations of tone are true, the picture will hold. For some reason truth of tone cannot be achieved by trial and error, but seems to be an intuitive - almost a physical - endowment, like absolute pitch in music; and gives, when we perceive it, a pure and timeless pleasure.
      "Velázquez had this endowment in the highest degree. Every day I look at Las Meninas I find myself exclaiming with delight as I recognize the absolute rightness of some passage of tone, the grey skirt of the standing menina, the green skirt of her kneeling companion, the window recess on the right, which is exactly like a Vermeer of the same date, and above all, the painter himself, in his modest, yet confident, penumbra. Only one figure makes me uneasy, the humble-looking attendant (known as a guardadamas) behind Maribarbola, who looks transparent; but I think he has suffered from some early restoration; and so has the head of the standing menina, Dona Isabel de Velasco, where the shadows are a little too black. Otherwise everything falls into place like a theorem in Euclid, and wherever we look the whole complex of relations is maintained.
      "One should be content to accept it without question, but one cannot look for long at Las Meninas without wanting to find out how it is done. I remember that when it hung in Geneva in 1939 I used to go very early in the morning, before the gallery was open, and try to stalk it, as if it really were alive. (This is impossible in the Prado, where the hushed and darkened room in which it hangs is never empty.) I would start from as far away as I could, when the illusion was complete, and come gradually nearer, until suddenly what had been a hand, and a ribbon, and a piece of velvet, dissolved into a salad of beautiful brush strokes. I thought I might learn something if I could catch the moment at which this transformation took place, but it proved to be as elusive as the moment between waking and sleeping.
      "Prosaically minded people, from Palomino onwards, have asserted that Velázquez must have used exceptionally long brushes, but the brushes he holds in the Meninas are of normal length, and he also carries a mahlstick, which implies that he put on the last delicate touches from very close to. The fact is that, like all transformations in art, it was not achieved by a technical trick, which can be found out and described, but by a flash of imaginative perception. At the moment when Velázquez' brush turned appearances into paint, he was performing an act of faith which involved his whole being.
      "Velázquez himself would have repudiated such a high-flown interpretation. At most he would have said that it was his duty to satisfy his royal master with a correct record. He might have gone on to say that in his youth he had been able to paint single heads accurately enough in the Roman manner, but that they seemed to him lacking in life. Later he had learnt from the Venetians how to give to his figures the appearance of flesh and blood, but they did not seem to be surrounded by air. Finally, he had found a means of doing this too, by broader strokes of the brush, but how precisely this came about he could not tell.
      "This is usually the way in which good painters speak about their work. But after two centuries of aesthetic philosophy we cannot leave it at that. No reasonable person can still believe that imitation is the end of art. To do so is like saying that the writing of history consists in recording all the known facts. Every creative activity of the human race depends on selection, and selection implies both a power to perceive relationships and the existence of a pre-established pattern in the mind. Nor is this activity peculiar to the artist, scientist or historian. We measure, we match colours, we tell stories. All through the day we are committed to low-grade aesthetic activities.
      "We are being abstract artists when we arrange our hair brushes, impressionists when we are suddenly charmed by a lilac shadow, and portrait-painters when we see a revelation of character in the shape of a jaw. All these responses are wholly inexplicable and remain unrelated until a great artist unites and perpetuates them, and makes them convey his own sense of order.

Diego Velázquez Las Meninas 1656
Oil on canvas 10'5''x9' Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Spanish Baroque

      "With these speculations in mind I return to the Meninas and it occurs to me what an extraordinarily personal selection of the facts Velázquez has made. That he has chosen to present this selection as a normal optical impression may have misled his contemporaries, but should not mislead us. There is, to begin with, the arrangement of the forms in space, that most revealing and personal expression of our sense of order; and then there is the interplay of their glances, which creates a different network of relationships. Finally there are the characters themselves. Their disposition, which seems so natural, is really very peculiar. It is true that the Infanta dominates the scene, both by her dignity for she has already the air of one who is habitually obeyed and by the exquisite beauty of her pale gold hair. But after looking at her, one's eye passes immediately to the square, sullen countenance of her dwarf, Maribarbola, and to her dog, brooding and detached, like some saturnine philosopher. These are in the first plane of reality. And who are in the last? The King and Queen, reduced to reflections in a shadowy mirror. To his royal master this may have seemed no more than the record of a scene which had taken his fancy. But must we suppose that Velázquez was unconscious of what he was doing when he so drastically reversed the accepted scale of values?
        "As I stand in the big Velázquez room of the Prado I am almost oppressed by his uncanny awareness of human character. It makes me feel like those spiritualistic mediums who complain that they are being disturbed by 'presences'. Maribarbola is such a disturbing element. While the other protagonists in the Meninas, out of sheer good manners, take their parts in a sort of
au vivant, she affronts the spectator like a blow from a muffled fist; and I remember the strange and poignant relationship which Velázquez had with all the dwarfs and buffoons whom he painted. No doubt it was part of his duties to record the likenesses of these Court favourites, but in the main Velázquez room of the Prado there are as many portraits of buffoons as there are of the royal family (nine of each). Surely that goes beyond official instructions and expresses a strong personal preference. Some of his reasons may have been purely pictorial. Buffoons could be made to sit still longer than royal persons, and he could look more intensely at their heads. But was there not also the feeling that their physical humiliations gave them a reality which his royal sitters lacked ? Take away the carapace of their great position, and how pink and featureless the King and Queen become, like prawns without their shells. They cannot look at us with the deep questioning gaze of Sebastian de Morra or the fierce sullen independence of Maribarbola. And I begin to reflect on what would happen to Las Meninas if Maribarbola had been removed and a graceful young lady of the Court put in her place. We should still feel that we were there; the colour would be as subtle, the tone as scrupulously correct. But the temperature would have dropped: we should have lost a whole dimension of truth."


Diego Velázquez Los Borrachos 
also called "The Topers" and "The Rule of Bacchus"
1628 Oil on canvas 5'6''x7'6'' 
Located in Museo del Prado, Madrid
Form:  Velázquez is one of those artists who does it all.  In this image he incorporates genre scene elements with his skills as a portrait painter. Iconography: The iconography of this painting is reference to classical arcadian ideas although image is "classical" it seems to me to be an almost sarcastic or moralizing way in which to depict it.  This painting seems almost to be a warning against hedonism
The theme this story that this painting portrays is a bacchanal
According to Webster's, 
bac.cha.na.lia n, pl bacchanalia [L, fr. Bacchus] (1591) 1 pl, cap: a Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry 2: orgy 2, 3 -- bac.cha.na.lian adj or n 
Context:  This painting also demonstrates that Velázquez was a "Renaissance Man" in his familiarity with classical mythology and his ability to play with those themes.

"Velázquez painted this picture of Bacchus surrounded by eight drinkers for Philipp IV who hung it in his summer bedroom. The painting is not only unique in his oeuvre, but is very rare indeed in Spanish painting as a whole, which does not generally have the drinking scenes so familiar in Flemish and Netherlandish painting. Drunkenness was regarded in Spain as a contemptible vice and "borracho" (drunkard) was the most scathing of insults. At the royal court, it seems to have been considered highly entertaining to invite low-lifers from the comedy theatres and inebriate them for the amusement of the ladies. But what kind of a Wine God is this we see, crowning his followers with ivy, said to cool the heat of wine, and consorting with peasants who grin out of the painting and clearly find the spectator, that is to say the king, a very funny sight indeed? The authority of the god whose presence delights them lends them a sense of majesty as well. And in view of the delightful travesty of royal honours in which Bacchus is indulging, they too have turned the tables and are laughing in the faces of those who would laugh at them. Is this Bacchus merely a myth born of wine, an embodiment of those lowly joys which the nobleman snubs? Or is the god a courtier having precisely the kind of fun at which the ladies liked to laugh? As only Caravaggio before him, Velázquez has portrayed Bacchus (or rather Dionysos) as the God of the mask, the theatre and disguise."

apoc.ry.pha n pl but sing or pl in constr [ML, fr. LL, neut. pl. of apocryphus secret, not canonical, fr. Gk apokryphos obscure, fr. apokryptein to hide away, fr. apo- + kryptein to hide--more at crypt] (14c) 1: writings or statements of dubious authenticity 2 cap a: books included in the Septuagint and Vulgate but excluded from the Jewish and Protestant canons of the Old Testament b: early Christian writings not included in the New Testament apoc.ry.phal adj (1590) 1: of doubtful authenticity: spurious 2 often cap: of or resembling the Apocrypha syn see fictitious -- apoc.ry.phal.ly adv -- apoc.ry.phal.ness n
ar.ca.di.an adj, often cap (1589) 1: idyllically pastoral; esp: idyllically innocent, simple, or untroubled 2 a: of or relating to Arcadia or the Arcadians b: of or relating to Arcadian Ar.ca.di.an n (1590) 1 often not cap: a person who lives a simple quiet life 2: a native or inhabitant of Arcadia 3: the dialect of ancient Greek used in Arcadia
According to the Brittanica,
Modern Greek ARKADHÍA, mountainous region of the central Peloponnesus of ancient Greece. The pastoral character of Arcadian life together with its isolation partially explains why it was represented as a paradise in Greek and Roman bucolic poetry and in the literature of the Renaissance. The region is not exactly coextensive with the present-day nomós (department) of Arkadhía, which extends on the east to the Gulf of Argolis. The capital of the nomos is Trípolis.
¹bra.vu.ra n [It, lit., bravery, fr. bravare] (1757) 1: a musical passage requiring exceptional agility and technical skill in execution 2: a florid brilliant style 3: a show of daring or brilliance ²bravura adj (1920) 1: marked by an ostentatious display of skill 2: ornate, showy

chiar.oscu.ro n, pl -ros [It, fr. chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark] (1686) 1: pictorial representation in terms of light and shade without regard to color 2 a: the arrangement or treatment of light and dark parts in a pictorial work of art b: the interplay or contrast of dissimilar qualities (as of mood or character) 3: a 16th century woodcut technique involving the use of several blocks to print different tones of the same color; also: a print made by this technique 4: the interplay of light and shadow on or as if on a surface 5: the quality of being veiled or partly in shadow According to the Brittanica, 
Chiaroscuro (from Italian chiaro, "light"; scuro, "dark"),
technique employed in the visual arts to represent light and shadow as they define three-dimensional objects.
Some evidence exists that ancient Greek and Roman artists used chiaroscuro effects, but in European painting the technique was first brought to its full potential by Leonardo da Vinci in the late 15th century in such paintings as his "Adoration of the Magi" (1481; Uffizi, Florence). Thereafter, chiaroscuro became a primary technique for many painters, and by the late 17th century the term was routinely used to describe any painting, drawing, or print that depends for its effect on an extensive gradation of light and darkness.
 "chiaroscuro."  and  Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.   Copyright © 1994-2001 Britannica.com Inc.   November 19, 2002.

genre n [F, fr. MF, kind, gender--more at gender] (1770) 1: a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content 2: kind, sort 3: painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usu. realistically he.do.nism n [Gk hedone pleasure; akin to Gk hedys sweet--more at sweet] (1856) 1: the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life 2: a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism -- he.do.nist n -- he.do.nis.tic adj -- he.do.nis.ti.cal.ly adv
im.pas.to n, pl -tos [It, fr. impastare] (1784) 1: the thick application of a pigment to a canvas or panel in painting; also: the body of pigment so applied 2: raised decoration on ceramic ware usu. of slip or enamel -- im.pas.toed adj
neo.clas.sic or neo.clas.si.cal adj (1877): of, relating to, or constituting a revival or adaptation of the classical esp. in literature, music, art, or architecture -- neo.clas.si.cism n -- neo.clas.si.cist n or adj
oeu.vre n, pl oeuvres [F oeuvre, lit., work, fr. L opera--more at opera] (1875): a substantial body of work constituting the lifework of a writer, an artist, or a composer
rib.ald n [ME, fr. MF ribaut, ribauld wanton, rascal, fr. riber to be wanton, of Gmc origin; akin to OHG riban to be wanton, lit., to rub] (13c): a ribald person ²ribald adj (1508) 1: crude, offensive <~ language> 2: characterized by or using coarse indecent humor syn see coarse
ten.e.brism n, often cap [L tenebrae darkness] (1954): a style of painting esp. associated with the Italian painter Caravaggio and his followers in which most of the figures are engulfed in shadow but some are dramatically illuminated by a concentrated beam of light usu. from an identifiable source -- ten.e.brist n or adj, often cap
according to the Brittanica,
"in the history of Western painting, the use of extreme contrasts of light and dark in figurative compositions to heighten their dramatic effect. (The term is derived from the Latin tenebrae, "darkness.") In tenebrist paintings the figures are often portrayed against a background of intense darkness, but the figures themselves are illuminated by a bright, searching light that sets off their three-dimensional forms by a harsh but exquisitely controlled chiaroscuro . The technique was introduced by the Italian painter Caravaggio (1571?-1610) and was taken up in the early 17th century by painters influenced by him, including the French painter Georges de La Tour, the Dutch painters Gerrit van Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen, and the Spanish painter Francisco de Zurbarán."

1) How is Velasquez a Caravaggisti?
What specific formal elements does he share and how are they expressed?

2) Describe the iconography used through out this painting.

3) How does Velasquez play with perspectives and points of view?