[Music] There’s maybe no painting in the history of the form more worthy of analysis than Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas. What we’re talking about here is a masterwork by an artist late in his life, but at the height of his powers, determined to drive into this canvas the sum total of his talent, his experience, and his intellect. Velazquez had been, by then, a court painter for the Spanish King Philip IV for over thirty years. Indeed, he was a favorite of Phillip’s, painting his portrait many times and advancing in salary and rank all the way up to Chamberlain of the palace, responsible for decorating this great Alcazar of Madrid with all its many artworks. So it’s no surprise that for his masterpiece Velazquez sets his painting in the palace itself, the place he knew best. Specifically, in his own studio, adorned with paintings that he himself chose. Now, they’re a little bit hard to see, but we know what they are based on histories of the space and it’s no accident that he chooses these paintings specifically. But we’ll get to that a bit later. First, let’s take a look at the main action of the scene: So much hits you right away. Maybe the first thing you see is the little girl, Margaret Theresa. The, then, only living child of the king. Or, maybe you see that mirror showing reflected images of the king and queen themselves. Or maybe the first thing that stands out to you is that 6 of the 9 characters represented here are staring beyond the picture plane. Which is to say, at you. That fact alone gives this image its great sense of spontaneity as if it were a snapshot. Velasquez captures the moment just when several of these figures are noticing something. Some, like these three, have yet to notice it In the case of the little princess all that’s moved, so far, is her eyes. But, though the moment depicted is spontaneous, the composition of the subjects is anything but. You have here a real clinic in composing group scenes. What Velasquez has done in this group of eleven, including the mirror-images of the king and queen, is arranged an extraordinary number of links and contrasts that slides your eyes back and forth across the canvas. The first thing to notice, perhaps, is the obsession here with grouping two’s and three’s. Everyone here but the princess can be split into pairs. The male and female dwarf, the two chaperones here, the curtsying maid and the palace official in the back corridor, the king and the queen in the mirror, and Velasquez and the maid kneeling to offer the princess a drink. Notice also that these are all male-female pairs. And these pairing accentuate the princess as the focus of the scene. But you could also split the group up into threes. The princess with her two maids, the dog and the two dwarfs and the two palace officials with what now occurs to us are mirrored couples. See also that these two groups of three, internally made up of doubles and triples, are all on the same horizontal plane. This group of six also draws the entirety of the painting’s three dimensional space. Our eye is drawn from Velasquez in the foreground to the palace official in the distance, as they’re wearing similar black garb and stand in line with the two doorways on the back walls. The chaperones in the middle ground link to the king and queen in the background, which simultaneously brings the z-axis all the way forward beyond the picture itself, intimating a depth that we can’t even see. It’s amazing. What you might not have realized is that this motif of twos and threes has already been established in the frames on the back wall, with two giant canvases over top two door frames and the central mirror. Of that bottom triple, the right sides of the frames correspond with the princess and her two maids, moving the eyes naturally from the king and queen to their daughter. But the eyes are also drawn from the mirror to the right, that lighted passage framing the palace official. This space of this lighted rectangle is equal to that of the mirror and they’re put on the same horizontal plane as well. Indeed, because of its brightness, like the brightness of the little princess bathed in light, we’re drawn to it just as much as the other two. In these three elements of Las Meninas, we have three central focus points. Unlike Da Vinci’s Last Supper for example, where all elements in the painting point toward Jesus Christ, Las Meninas is more ambiguous, letting the viewer vacillate between multiple centers of weight. Being a court painter for the royal family, it’s obvious why Velasquez would want to highlight the royal couple and their daughter. But what’s significant about the back hallway? Well, this gets at a long running debate about the significance of this mirror. What exactly is it reflecting? A number of critics have seen it as the reflection of the actual king and queen standing, like we said, beyond the picture plane, putting the viewer literally in the shoes of royalty. But a closer examination of the one point perspective of this image reveals something else. The vanishing point of Las Meninas is not here, but here, in the lighted doorway to the right. What does this mean? Well, it means that the eye of this painting, so to speak, isn’t opposite the mirror, but opposite the door. So the mirror doesn’t reflect directly back at us. It reflects at an angle. An angle that puts its image on another unseen aspect of Las Meninas: The canvas that Velasquez is working on. Now, for a moment, let’s get back to the paintings in the upper half of this picture. These are copies of two paintings by Peter Paul Rubens, a hero of Velasquez. And they tell similar stories, in this case, both from Ovid’s Metamorphosis. In the right, the mortal Marsyas challenges the god Apollo to a flute playing contest. In the left, the god Athena challenges the mortal Arachne to a weaving contest. On other words, these are two contests between mortals and gods on the subject of the arts. Now, Marsyas loses and Arachne wins, but both are punished by their gods in the end for failing to recognize the divine source of the artistic endeavor. Such stories are extremely relevant to Las Meninas because in the end, this is a painting about painting, itself. In Velasquez’s time, painting still didn’t hold the same kind of noble place as poetry and music. Las Meninas, in all its splendid effects, is a vigorous argument for the virtue of painting, whether it comes from the heavens or the lifelong practice of craft. And this gets at the heart of the mirror, the vanishing point and the multiple centers of focus. “See what my art can do,” Velasquez is saying to the viewer. And to his king and queen, “Look not to nature or your own reflection in the mirror for the most marvelous depiction of your image, but to my canvas.” Las Meninas is an extraordinary accomplishment for its time. But its effect is timeless. It’s said that King Philip IV often came to Velasquez’s studio just to watch him paint. Somehow, I think Las Meninas animated his consciousness as it does mine, 360 years later. Indeed, to stare at this painting, in any age, is to be convinced slowly, gradually, and then confidently that you are witnessing the very best this medium has to offer. [Music] Hey everybody, thanks for watching an thank you to Squarespace for sponsoring this video. Just amazing, like those of you who pledge on Patreon, Squarespace is helping to fund this project, keep it going and they don’t interfere in the content, which is awesome. And their product is actually really great. Sleek, intuitive professional looking websites. You don’t have to know coding to make it happen. I’m working on something for the Nerdwriter right now, which I think is going to be pretty cool. And if you sign up for a year, you can get a free domain name an if you go to squarespace.com and use the offer code “Nerdwriter”, you can get 10% off your first purchase. So that’s pretty awesome. You can find a link to all that stuff in the description below. Thank you guys for that. And if you want to pledge to the project directly, you can obviously go to my Patreon by clicking right below this. Thank you guys so much and I will see you next Wednesday. Squarespace: You should.

Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?
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100 thoughts on “Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?

  • July 25, 2019 at 5:31 am
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    ART is lost on the stupid it seems from the comments, the iphone rules, our past lost, ,,,,,great vid

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  • July 25, 2019 at 4:43 pm
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    The main focus of the painting never got a mention?
    I'm talking about the dog.

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  • July 25, 2019 at 6:03 pm
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    Great painting no question, but best is a stretch. So many great works of art it’s impossible to say one is best. My favs starry night, I and the village, garden of earthly delights, guernica, the old king… so so many…

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  • July 25, 2019 at 8:09 pm
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    3:07 ….what dog? Wtf there's a dog!

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  • July 26, 2019 at 12:26 am
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    Thank you .

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  • July 26, 2019 at 11:33 am
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    But what about the dog?

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  • July 26, 2019 at 6:34 pm
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    Art is so cool

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  • July 26, 2019 at 8:16 pm
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    But is the main subject a girl or a boy?

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  • July 26, 2019 at 10:06 pm
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    The second child from the right is Varys as a kid.

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  • July 27, 2019 at 10:58 am
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    I dont know shit about art but still I am binge watching all of'em

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  • July 27, 2019 at 12:12 pm
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    it's an ok painting in my eyes. nothing special, not eye catching, not visually stunning. Trying to dub any painting as the "best painting" is beyond absurd. same with music

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  • July 27, 2019 at 3:37 pm
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    I think it's a mirror that is reflecting the man who is walking through the stairs looking back too his doughter

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  • July 27, 2019 at 5:56 pm
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    So beautiful… Ive returned to this vedio 5th time and found something new again ✌️✨

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  • July 27, 2019 at 9:37 pm
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    I think best painting in history is a personal choice.

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  • July 27, 2019 at 11:33 pm
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    Velazques… Emaibiutifol?

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  • July 28, 2019 at 2:14 am
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    ''Las Meninas: Is This The Best Painting In History?''

    No.

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  • July 28, 2019 at 7:06 am
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    a great critique. your writing is exceptional. your voice is wonderful.
    please. please please
    improve your diction. it will make your ideas more present, more readily understood. and the most egregious offense is your final consonants. specifically your final tees.
    "it" becomes "i(!)", with the glyph (!) indicating a glottal stop. listen for it. it is all around you. everyone does it, or most everyone. but if you can learn to speak your final tees, you will be a much more effective speaker.
    over pronounce as an exercise. even when you drop the exercise it may sound un natural, but practice will take the sharp edges off of it and eventually leave you with the crispness that is the gift of good diction, and indeed, good speech.
    good luck.

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  • July 28, 2019 at 7:57 am
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    > Abstract art

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  • July 28, 2019 at 8:58 am
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    Paintings within a Painting. In a Painting about Painting
    Paintingception

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  • July 28, 2019 at 9:15 am
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    One of the dwarves is just a child

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  • July 28, 2019 at 9:51 pm
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    Well, these classics may be important, clever, full of techniques and all, but I enjoy Thomas Kincaid paintings myself.

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  • July 28, 2019 at 11:03 pm
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    yeah thats not bad but my mate joe can draw swans

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  • July 29, 2019 at 12:31 am
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    I paid (financed) $125,000 for art school and nobody ever told me this shit…

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  • July 29, 2019 at 3:03 am
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    Plebeian compositional devices do not make the best painting in history, nor do they define this painting. They are an ancillary concern, as is interpretation in linguistics. The technical vanishing point is not the "eye" of any painting. In short, we can't make an argument which focuses on trivial aspects of an image and misses the point of the image as a whole as evidence of it being the greatest painting ever. The groupings in twos or threes was also a bit arbitrary, and it all ends up little more than judging a Shakespeare play based on numerology. Not a bad video, but, a painting needs to resonate directly, visually, and immediately. It is not accessed through analysis in linguistic structures.

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  • July 29, 2019 at 1:57 pm
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    Incredible analysis of the painting, really builds up an epic mood instead of just plainly describing the paintings elements. If anybody is really interested to delve more into interpretations of Las Meninas, I highly recommend you to read the intro of "The order of things" by Michel Foucault. It´s more a philosophical concept rather than an analysis, but so great to read.

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  • July 29, 2019 at 5:49 pm
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    Lmao, all this is so fake and overanalyzed.

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  • July 29, 2019 at 10:45 pm
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    I truly admire this brilliant piece of art. Don't get me wrong. But I have been think that the whole purpose of creating art pieces such as Las Meninas could be to create an illusion that would not only be an amusement for the people but also for the King himself, ultimately allowing the artist to win the sack of gold that he was promised. History is full of people who used their craft to create such illusions.

    A story called "The Invisible Silk Robe", where in the story the men who weaved the robe, after the King had ordered it, asked for a lot in return for the robe they will be weaving. They also said, "The silk cloth that we weave won't be visible to a base-born person. Would he be a well-born person, it will be visible to him". Once the robe was made, the King being a foolish one, wore the robe and walked naked to go to all the places in the city.(Again, it a story, that does prove the point).

    People now-a-days do create such illusions through photography or through digital art but are never given anything, not even the attention they deserve so much. I being an artistic person, at least I think of myself as one, can only appreciate this piece of art. Trust me, I dont hate the art or the artist. I just dont get what the fuss is about when it comes to such art pieces.

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  • July 30, 2019 at 2:05 am
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    reading the comment chains today, i can just imagine everyone with a monacle, a victorian party suit and an aristocratically brittish accent.

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  • July 30, 2019 at 3:57 am
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    Lmao my parents have this painting in their house

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  • July 30, 2019 at 4:11 pm
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    *How To Overthink Art 101: The Las Meninas

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  • July 30, 2019 at 7:53 pm
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    Leonard Cohen thought that art was only borrowed by the artist. Artist is just the vessel or portal. The real doozie is where is it delivered from?
    Love that painting!

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  • July 31, 2019 at 4:00 am
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    Something I think he should have mentioned: At this time, painting wasn't seen as super honorable, (which was mentioned,) but this painting is also marvelous in that it puts the painter and the monarchs in the same painting. To put them together in the same frame is to say they are equals; he managed to do that in a non-offensive way to the monarchs, and its truly a blast to think about.

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  • July 31, 2019 at 4:46 am
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    I don't know, does anyone ever call bullshit on these interpretations?

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  • July 31, 2019 at 5:56 am
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    You’re overthinking it.

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  • July 31, 2019 at 1:30 pm
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    Phillip IV looked like he created Facebook and he is not human

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  • August 1, 2019 at 1:47 pm
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    The door itself is divided between panels of two and three, as well.

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  • August 1, 2019 at 6:14 pm
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    I think it's neat, but not nearly as good as you think it is.

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  • August 2, 2019 at 4:44 pm
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    The guy leaving the painting in the back always spoke to me how Velasquez really felt, Since he had been late in his life, it was to show he was leaving soon, but not turning his head on what he could see. He was contempt with going, but he was just too curious.

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  • August 2, 2019 at 9:47 pm
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    From the paintors of the spanish court, Velazquez would be lawful good and Goya would be chaotic evil

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  • August 3, 2019 at 1:03 am
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    Amazing video. Thank you so much for it 🙏

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  • August 3, 2019 at 4:56 am
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    For me, the best painting in History is Guernica.

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  • August 3, 2019 at 11:14 am
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    Stand well back from this painting, look at it through your rolled up catalogue and you see it in perfect 3D.

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  • August 3, 2019 at 8:04 pm
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    Man start drinking water.
    Wtf.

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  • August 3, 2019 at 11:53 pm
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    Dios mío repitiendo esa boludez de trap una y otra vez. La puta madre no tienen cultura general sólo música basura en el cerebro?

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  • August 4, 2019 at 4:01 am
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    Saw this in Madrid 3 years ago and i felt so small after looking at my art 🎨😂

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  • August 4, 2019 at 8:35 pm
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    i can interpret much from my kid's painting also….

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  • August 5, 2019 at 10:48 am
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    Athena isn't a god, she's a goddess

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  • August 7, 2019 at 1:21 am
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    It's a solid meh. best painting? lol clickbait

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  • August 10, 2019 at 12:36 pm
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    Velasquez – the painters’ painter.

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  • August 10, 2019 at 12:50 pm
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    Dog – Saturnine – Hmm
    Red-cross motif – Hmm
    Twelve figures in relation to an absent one? – Hmm
    Three nenufars
    Three and two in the composition of the door.
    Red and white – wine and bread
    Life…….and Afterlife beyond the stairs?

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  • August 12, 2019 at 8:11 pm
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    Another theory: the viewer is standing in de shoes of the king and queen. Velasquez is painting a painting of the king and queen as seen in the mirror. This means that the king and queen are standing from the viewers viewpoint. As is also seen because of the direction velasquez and the princess are looking in. The painting is about the king and queen who see the painting of themselves in the mirror while velasquez is painting them and while the court is watching them being painted.

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  • August 14, 2019 at 12:03 am
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    *12

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  • August 14, 2019 at 5:16 pm
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    Best ever is completely subjective.

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  • August 15, 2019 at 11:05 am
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    I thought Onement Vi by Barnett Newman was pretty good too. If you understand the deeper meaning and the themes of the painting and realize in what time they were made, it puts the painting in a whole new dimension of a perspective, something the mind can almost not reprehend. The vastness of it just grabs you but letting your boundless fantasies run anyway it wants because there is no reference point in the painting to hold on to.
    It does something that portrait paintings can not do; it blends the surreal with the real.

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  • August 17, 2019 at 10:44 pm
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    I took a picture of this yesterday and this came in my recommendation…

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  • August 18, 2019 at 3:11 pm
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    The first time I saw it in real life i was 7 years old. My mom always tells the story that I sat on the floor and stayed there for 35 min. I wouldn't want to leave and my mom didn't want to make me because she saw how fascinated I was with it. It's truly a master piece.

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  • August 18, 2019 at 11:16 pm
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    Michel Foucault begins his The order of things, with a sublime analysis of this painting.

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  • August 19, 2019 at 1:12 pm
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    i go back to this video every year just to check if i have understood it in a totally different way

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  • August 19, 2019 at 4:21 pm
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    Fabulous!

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  • August 19, 2019 at 8:43 pm
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    This is just too good, wtf

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  • August 20, 2019 at 4:49 am
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    I think some of what you said was a stretch but I like a lot of what you said.

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  • August 21, 2019 at 9:13 am
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    It's a painting of royalty where the artist has decided to include himself as royalty

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  • August 21, 2019 at 3:43 pm
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    OK, so the only thing I can see that is news is that this painting is about painting portraits. The rest of it, Meh…..As a schooled artist I have heard this painting dissected many times.
    It is a painting that I could stare at every day. "Salvador Mundi", Da Vinci, is another one I could look at every day. MY eyes, at least, keep jumping to three things. That is how I would define as 'masterpiece', ya can't stop looking at it!
    I would love to hear what Nerdwriter has to say about Banksy, a completely different kind of artist.

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  • August 21, 2019 at 7:26 pm
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    I disagree. The best painting has to offer, man has yet to receive.

    The painting is good… but…. don't overthink it. 😅

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  • August 21, 2019 at 11:59 pm
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    Velazquez is the greatest painter ever

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  • August 22, 2019 at 8:22 pm
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    Peter Draws once said that people try to read too much into the meanings of paintings. but until we get a signed letter from the artist telling us the meaning, there doesnt have to be a meaning and no one can say for sure anyway so there.

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  • August 23, 2019 at 1:17 pm
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    i disagree, I always hated this picture.

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  • August 23, 2019 at 7:03 pm
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    Isn't there also speculation (or perhaps stronger than speculation) that Las Meninas was heavily influenced by Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait?

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  • August 23, 2019 at 11:03 pm
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    I went to the Prado Museum today… I stood 3 feet away from this masterpiece. It was unforgettable. I needed to come watch this again and thank you for such an amazing case study.

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  • August 24, 2019 at 3:53 am
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    Velazquez invented the first person main character in video games. the paiinting is through the eyes of the king of spain

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  • August 25, 2019 at 12:04 am
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    This analysis is like watching The Number 23 with Jim Carrey, only more paranoid.

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  • August 25, 2019 at 10:47 am
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    Uh huh. I think he went a lil crazy painting the underbite on the dwarf chick to the right.

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  • August 25, 2019 at 7:59 pm
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    There is no such thing as the best painting in the world.

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  • August 26, 2019 at 11:25 am
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    You at 3:51: „What you might not have realized…

    me: I HAVEN'T EVEN REALIZED WHAT YOU SAID UP UNTIL THIS POINT EVEN NOW THAT YOU SAID IT

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  • August 27, 2019 at 3:38 pm
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    Although I respect your analysis and I myself agree with most of your points. I feel as if you were reaching, you were just looking and finding. And I say this from experience. I myself paint and no I’m not a master but when people analyze my work they reach and find things to explain just for the sake of it. I guess it’s art and we all see what we see. Artist are born with this knowledge, sometimes we do things just because it looks right and someone like you say it’s because we wanted to. Idk

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  • August 28, 2019 at 12:35 am
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    A really dumb title to attract small minds.

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  • August 28, 2019 at 3:45 am
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    When someone innately understands perspective, focus, color, light, balance, etc., they see and experience the world around them very differently than others. That is what makes them good painters, photographers, movie directors, set designers, clothing designers, and all the other arts that use light and form to express what others cannot.

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  • August 28, 2019 at 7:45 am
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    He must have used photoshop

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  • August 28, 2019 at 7:54 am
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    Man from 2016 Over-analyzing this painting.
    Diego: Tf, i was just painting what I saw

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  • August 28, 2019 at 8:35 am
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    Oh good lord… pairs of twos or threes? Who the hell cares, man. Seriously reaching so hard. It’s a gorgeous painting. I can’t even listen anymore. 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

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  • August 28, 2019 at 7:39 pm
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    What is the name of the font in the begining?

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  • August 29, 2019 at 1:44 am
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    This is a masterpiece , whether you like it or not. Valesquez is brilliant.

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  • August 29, 2019 at 11:36 pm
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    I don’t think so that is the best oil painting in history I know Lot better

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  • August 30, 2019 at 12:23 pm
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    I've recently discovered "Nerd Writer", so I wanted to spend a few moments as well as words thanking you for the segments revelling facts upon many of the finest paintings in history, along with their creators. Being an aspiring writer, I'm wanting to absorb as much information as possible in the most condensed amount of time as to what most sources will allow, also there's the massive amount of enjoyment watching your videos. Excellent and by far one of my favorites to view combined with the educational aspects of watching makes me a dedicated "Nerd Writer Watcher!"

    Reply
  • August 30, 2019 at 4:26 pm
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    They're called "little people."

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  • August 30, 2019 at 9:02 pm
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    They look like titans from the animé to me

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  • August 30, 2019 at 9:24 pm
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    Sorry fell asleep!

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  • August 31, 2019 at 3:29 am
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    no

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  • August 31, 2019 at 7:45 am
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    Terry F Bromley, Now the painting is so much more interesting!

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  • August 31, 2019 at 9:16 am
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    My brain hurts

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  • August 31, 2019 at 9:27 am
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    Lmfao this dude is getting in waaay too fucking deep. It's just a painting and a very good one at that, half of the shit you just analysed is likely what the artist never even thought about at the time.

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  • August 31, 2019 at 1:03 pm
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    Just discovered this channel. I feel like this explanation made the painting come alive for me. Thank you.

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  • August 31, 2019 at 9:01 pm
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    Oh please. Such hype. There can be no best anything. And even at that… I doubt a chimp picks this out of a lineup. Regurgitated concepts is not genuine observation.

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  • August 31, 2019 at 9:47 pm
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    I've seen it in person and IMHO the observer is in the exact same position as the royal couple was back in the original scene. What you seen in the mirror is what Velázquez is painting and to be able to paint he is looking at… you? No, he is looking at his models, the king and the queen… as the princess and other four characters. So you are seeing the scene as the royal couple have seen it back then. You are THE KING or THE QUEEN, you are the most important character of that master piece, if you take a step to the left you can see yourself in the mirror

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  • September 1, 2019 at 3:38 am
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    And there I was thinking this is just a painting about a doggy.

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  • September 1, 2019 at 10:53 am
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    dude chill the fuck out it's just a painting. this analysis makes no sense btw

    Reply

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