|Ravel in 1906|
A piano roll of Ravel playing Pavane
|Las Meninas / Velasquez. 1656. Margaret Theresa is aged five.|
I must admit that I'm not generally a big fan of Velasquez, but there is something hugely endearing about this portrait. The little Infanta Margaret Theresa, daughter of Philip IV of Spain, has interrupted her parents' sitting for their portrait. We are viewing the painting from the point of view of her parents smiling down at their child. Velasquez himself is in the background on the left hand side brush in hand (you can spot Philip and his wife reflected in the mirror at the back of the room), so we are cleverly seeing the painting both from the King and Queen's viewpoint but also from the artist's. Except that what we're seeing is not what the artist is seeing even though he painted this - confused???
I think the reason that I find the picture so heart-warming is that unlike so many portraits of the period it does away with formality. There's a lot of love in this portrait. The Infanta's dwarves checking to see that she's alright, her dog, who's probably bigger than her, lying at her feet, her nurse has a quick gossipy moment in the background, while the Queen's chamberlain (another Velasquez, who may have been a relative of the artist) stands like a guard-dog in the doorway protecting the small happy family. And the little girl at the centre of it all, who just appears to be a happy child. Is it just me, or doesn't she look as though she's about to dance?
|Holy Roman Empress Margaret Theresa, painted, aged 16, by Jan Thomas|
So what happened next? Margaret Theresa married the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold I, in 1665, the year after the death of her beloved father; and moved to Vienna. Leopold was 11 years older than Margaret, but the marriage appears to have been happy. Both loved the theatre and music. I like to think that she had a few happy years because after a series of miscarriages, and being safely delivered of only one child who survived to adulthood, Margaret Theresa died aged just 21. She is buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna, a place I visited many years ago, without realising that the little girl of Las Meninas was buried there.
Many things make a great painting, and I'm no expert, but I think love lasts, and love comes bounding out of Velasquez' great work, and the piece of music by Ravel that I suspect owes at least a little to it.