Velázquez’s famous painting, Las Meninas (1656) changed this. The artist appears at the left of the canvas, standing before a painting that he is in the process of creating, but that has its back to us—we cannot see it. Beside him stands a princess, her attendants, and one of the court dwarves, all watching him work. The people posing for the painting are not directly visible, but we can see them in tiny reflections in a mirror on the back wall—the king and queen of
The painting represents a dramatic change in the dynamics of power and the ability to determine one’s own position in society. For Velázquez, the artist, is far more prominently positioned than the king and queen. In a sense he is more powerful than they are, since he is clearly the one controlling the image—their image. Velázquez no longer saw himself as the slavish, dependent artist. He had remade himself into a man of power. And indeed the first people other than aristocrats to play openly with their image in Western society were artists and writers, and later on the bohemians.