Any talk about Spanish Baroque is nonsense unless Velazquez is mentioned. When I first studied his monumental work, ‘Las Meninas’, I was thrown into a state of awe, belittled by the powerful presence of the artist himself in the painting,
On one hand, I was almost offended by the absurdity of the little girls and the buffoon, and on the other, I was awed by the monumentality and majesty of the painting. Then came the interplay between the viewer and the figures in the painting, some of them seem as if looking at us when, in fact, they are gazing at the King and Queen (whom we can see in the mirror). In the middle of it all, the artist posed with his brush held in a rare moment of intense and creative intellectual activity.
Then I took notice of the two paintings hanging on the back wall within Las Meninas. Of course I could not recognize them, but I knew they were there for a reason. Later, I found out what they were and why he chose these specific two paintings:
The two paintings at the back are ‘Pallas Athena and Arachne’ (to the left) and ‘Apollo as victor over Pan’ (to the right), both from the Flemish Painting School.
Now, both paintings present spectacular fables from Greco-Roman mythology, in which divine talent beats mortal skill. This is exactly the message of Velázquez: painting is superior to crafts, creativity is superior to skill, because creativity is divine, while skill is for mortals. In short: painters (like himself) are divinely inspired, and should be ranked above craftsmen (which was not the case during his lifetime).
This message is reinforced by his own pause (as an intellectual, reflecting on his next brushstroke), and stressed by the presence of the Royalty who witness his act of genius.