Velazquez’ Weavers

Clearly this blog is not living up to its name, as I seem to have left it unposted and unloved for almost five months, neither subjective nor disciplined.  I could argue that I have been so absorbed in my studies that I have simply not had time for it, but that doesn’t wash.  So, back to the blog.  For my research project (Tom Hunter and tableau photography) reading up on Vermeer led me to 17th-century ‘descriptive realism’ and then to Velazquez.  I knew some Velazquez, such as the baffling Las Meninas, and a postcard of the Immaculate Conception has a permanent place on my desk, but this was a revelation.  Within half an hour of seeing it on my screen, I was checking out flights to Madrid:


Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez – The Spinners, or the Fable of Arachne (1657)
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

This astonishing work, combining the portrayal of ordinary people at work with an allegory of artistic endeavour and the jealousy of the gods, was painted in 1657 (about 13 years before Vermeer’s allegorical masterpiece The Art of Painting).  It contains, uniquely I think, a picture within a picture within a picture, showing the weavers in the foreground, their tapestry of Arachne’s ill-fated challenge to Athena, and within that the tapestry of Europa’s abduction by Athena’s father Zeus, which so enraged the goddess  that she turned Arachne into a spider.  More on the Prado website.

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