Las Meninas

*Las Meninas was painted by Spanish artist Velazquez in 1656. The painting depicts a princess and her retinue in the court of King Philip IV.  Three hundred years later in 1957 Pablo Picasso embarked on a project to paint his own version of Las Meninas. One large full scale black and white painting emerged plus no less than 58 smaller studies, including 14 of the Infanta princess Margerita Maria and 9 pictures of pigeons painted from his loft in Cannes. Several of these have become famous in their own right, however Picasso was never able to complete a full color painting of the whole group to his satisfaction.  In the end he abandoned the project

 

 

1.

Behold!
Life is a work of art

Painted by an unseen hand

The artist, lord, composer – call him what you will

Is the original and all who come thereafter
Interpretations, commentaries, conjecture and discussion

Coursing down the centuries, a great river of life and labor

To spill out verdant and luscious, here and here.

Painter, philosopher, theologian, musician and magician

All take their place before him.

Behold there he stands, brush in hand

Huge canvas daunting over stage.

Designer and design, his eyes see all.

All glows with inner light, suspended

In that perfect moment when

Imagination becomes reality

 

 

2.

In this tawny chamber

Brown merges to brown,

And glowing calm

Where Margarita Maria poses,

Hooped and gowned

Between attending maids,

Her serene adolescence a light

That melts her frozen retinue.
Dwarf and dog prod and nod

While he, brush in hand,

Refracts the light and considers

His composition on a canvas

Framed and ribbed, large enough

To fill half a stage, its portent

Faced with richness

Of the mirrored royal couple.
See how the light shines through,

The inner light – Infanta –

His finest work.. Tonight

He dines at the King’s table

 

3.

The idea had not conceived itself

Across my brow, yet here in this exhibition

Its eyes traced mine from every corner

Every wall, frowning or glowering they

Led me though the rose and blue

Entrancing me, confronting me and

In the end inviting me with impudence

That lured my soul, to take a breath, plunge into

This river of shape and texture flowing through

Time’s mind.  The water rushes by, they cried,

Come catch the sky, capture the light and fling

It on the stage, his studio is your’s, come grasp

The brush, paint until your blood spurts forth

Onto the canvas.

 

It was then I saw the heavens before me

A checkerboard of possibilities spread across

The stage: faces and eyes, groups of figures each

Absorbed into its own bright rhythm of color,

Trees and sea (and pigeons!) with bright pecking

Beaks and roosts.

 

While all this time, in center stage, there stands Infanta,

All costumed in her look of pensive wisdom, her maids

Surrounding her, protected in her fancy dress of light.

Oh Margarita Maria, betrothed to your portrait,

You died at twenty-two. What could you know of History?

 

4.

Princesses have a way of reappearing

throughout history, like legends and fairy tales

they are passed down for centuries; especially

child-princesses, for which little girl does not dream

of being a princess?  Maria was no exception.

 

That summer as we boated down the Tagus river

I related to her the story of Margarita Maria

how the artist who painted her had made her

so famous that people from all the world came here

to admire her beauty.  Tell me again, she murmured,

eyes closed to her imaginings.  How her maids of honor

dressed her in finery.  I want to hear again about the
royal dog, about the court dwarf; how king and queen

admired her from the mirror.  As the river drifted by,

I too floated away on a dream.

 

Now here I am, alone in my attic, watching the pigeons

hop along the windowsill, my pen making sketches

over the page.  Margarita Maria, how beautiful you are

reflected in this warm Spanish sunlight.

 

5.

Maria spent a whole month dressing her princess

no plastic dolls or cut-out books for her, I painted

a tiny figurine of Margareta on a piece of board, clothed

only in her petticoats.  We carefully sawed her,

sandpapered her limbs to smoothness,

mounted her on a swiveling platform.

 

Off Calle Manuela Malasaña, in a small down-steps shop

we purchased remnants of silk brocade, calamanco, damask and

organza, mostly shades of yellow but also sky blue, bright reds,

added a serious brown close to the background hue of

Velasquez’s own royal chamber.

 

Together we set to work, snipping out bodices, skirts, sleeves and

sashes in gay industry.  Fourteen dressed up Infantas emerged

including an exquisite model which we have nicknamed

Fransiscana de Paula, Maria de los Remedios

 

6.

Divertimento:
I can feel the serrated knife
Of wonder thrill between my ribs
As I climb the steep wooden stairs
Of this attic in Cannes to tug the rope of memory
And let the sky’s somber passion fly in

Frequently there are moments
When between labors I watch
The pigeons fluttering on the sill,

Skimming and skittering
In the heavens and thus inspired, can
Hardly wait to inscribe their hues and
Patterns in the dawn light, envisage in my
Mind the star-bound logic of infinite
Variations as the Creator’s hands leap
After each other and fill in one-by-one
Those flawless complementary hues

 

It is true, I know it is heresy
When I allow the soaring of my intellect to
Interfere with the perfectly matched
Modulations of time worn traditions;

Yet as I climb the stairs,
Behold the wonder of fast approaching
Daylight, this is the muse that overcomes me

 

Generations of pigeons have fluttered
From these eaves for centuries
But now I am sure the time of change
Is drawing near, when intellect will
Combine the beauty of the sunrise,
The fluttering of the pigeons
And the intense painful wonder of it all
Into one shimmering crystal collage
Linked, interweaving and perfect

 

One last insight and the picture will be complete
Others might pay homage, but I need
To transcribe this vision of wonder,
Capture the fluttering pigeons on
And between the weave of the canvas

 

7.

Last night I lay awake for hours, those

Pigeons sighing and cooing in their roosts

Sang of sadness and disappointment, repeating

Their tunes in mutterings of who, where and why.

Somewhere between witching hour and fancy
I fell into a dream.  It was a ballroom, domed and

Vast where harlequin-like characters all masked,

Danced in slow circles around a revolving stage,

A carousel of horseless riders.  Within their robes I saw

Slow motioned troubled faces, I recognized a few:

A dwarf danced with two maidens, a queen

Sang to a dog.  On two tall ladders clowns

Climbed to the ceiling, brushes in their hands they

Swathed reds, greens and blues across the plastered

Vault, each in his own endeavor.  As colors spread, remained

Unmingled, I felt, nay I knew, they were uncomfortable

With each other, while down below the dancing ceased

And in a voice of thunder, the king called out – desist!

 

At that the ceiling came apart in sections like broken

Kaleidoscopes – angles of color split off into a thousand

Whirling shapes and pieces – like armies they fought

For possession of each area, charging and reforming until

Again the king called out – desist, and color drenched from

Each painted face in pale confusion. 

 

As all the cast looked upwards, fighting stopped like wounded

Clock hands until all movement froze.  I stepped out on the river

and it shattered into shards of centuries – like broken ice.

 

8.

And so the river rushes onwards
Bending and flowing, sometimes unseen

Across the landscape, at times it even

Vanishes underground to emerge

Years later, with the sound of caverns

In its voice.  My life moves on too

From one village to next, visiting some companions-
An old savage, a man with a hat

Sculptors, artists, cats and musketeers and
Women – many women.

 

Of Margerita these days I rarely think,

Life is good and she is beautiful, perhaps

One day some young satyr may discover her again

Sitting by the river, singing her song

 

 

Epilogue - Pablo’s Eyes

 

Nosed eyes splayed all around into

what has become a legend, a semblance,

limbs twisted into rapturous concavity,

arms dancing cubes of intimate sprawl,

fruit-ripe nipple fullness, relaxed depravity

daubed over furniture of red green or orange

splashed with streaks of brown, blue and droll

all odd and clown-like in grave and questioning smiles

 

In all this ebullience of shape and color

it is the eyes that penetrate your heart,

your mind, your intellect, your gasp,

eyes peering all-angled, oval, opposing, geometric,

laughing into offset spread-eagled proportions,

gazing out of the canvas from whichever

patterned frown they and you find each other,

they stare at you all wisdom and pupil, those eyes

watching you from every pose and twist,

all-seeing, juxtaposed in gravity or jest

 

And should you penetrate their magnets, you may find

yourself penciling impressions on tablecloths

entranced by the magic of this wise old child,

your eyes obsessed with brush and mind

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© Johnmichael Simon

2010

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