Implied Mirror in Family of Carlos IV
The influence of Velázquez’ mirror in Goya’s work was not restricted to his drawing of the female nude. Goya’s painting, Family of Carlos IV (1800-1801) (Figure 4) is said to be a direct reference to Velázquez’ Las Meninas (1656) (Figure 5) (Olszewski 178). Las Meninas features twelve figures in a room, flanked by the painter at his canvas and a mirror in the background. The mirror’s reflection seems to capture two observers, perhaps the king and queen, who are not pictured in the foreground. Throughout the centuries, Las Meninas has been regarded as an objective observation of the artist’s surroundings (Brown 48). Within the painting, there has been an interruption in the room, perhaps the viewer, that draws all attention of the painting’s subjects towards this intrusion (Brown 78). Once again, Velázquez illustrates the mirror as the focal point of the painting. His self-portrait within the composition paints the two figures reflected in the mirror (Prater 76). In turn, these reflections create a duality within the painting that link the subject’s gaze with that of the viewer.
Goya makes an intentional reference to Las Meninas in his portrait of Charles IV and his family. Having made an etched reproduction a few years earlier, he knew the painting well. In his composition, Goya exploits the unconventional spontaneity seen in Velázquez’ Las Meninas. Similar to the older painting, the royal court in Goya’s portrait stands as if carrying out an “informal” visit to the artist’s studio. The family appears to have stopped to look at themselves in an unseen mirror. Goya directly references Velázquez’ composition by illustrating his self-portrait in the process of painting on a canvas the viewer cannot see. As a result of this self-referential illustration, he suggests the presence of an implied mirror. The painting the viewer sees is in fact this mirrored reflection (Licht 69). In these references to Spanish tradition, it is obvious that Goya desired his composition to be thought of as a masterpiece itself.
Despite Goya’s reference to Velázquez’ Las Meninas, the meaning he creates within his painting is dissimilar to that of his predecessor. The informal stance of Goya’s figures highlights the fact that the family is on stage for everyone’s viewing, just as they are in everyday life (Tomlinson 60). In his depiction of the royal family’s physical characteristics, Goya carries over the satirical humor he used in the Los Caprichos series to portray the “follies” of Spanish society. Goya’s lack of idealization in his composition attempts to show the court’s accessibility to their subjects (Olszewski 176). Consequently, this realism was considered to be an intentional insult against the royal family (Olszewski 172). Although, due to the objective nature of mirrors, all responsibility of the painting’s “realism” is placed on the implied mirror within the painting. Moreover, Goya, through no fault of his own, was simply painting what the mirror revealed to him (Licht 78). As a result, this lack of idealized physical characteristics reflects the court’s true self as an approachable ruling family, undoubtedly accessible to their subjects.
For Goya, the picture plane is a mirror surface, reflecting its subject truthfully. The picture plane and mirror are equally related objects available to satisfy the viewer’s gaze. Moreover, both interchangeably take on each other’s attributes to reflect the surrounding world (Prater 59). If we accept that Goya viewed the picture plane as a mirror, it stands to reason that a painting might be a mirror even when the painting’s subject makes no clear reference to mirrors.
It is clear that Goya has, without a doubt, made use of mirror reflection while painting his subjects throughout his career. In this action, the painted image derived from the artist’s mirror creates a duality and in effect becomes imitation imitated (Prater 86). That is, the mirror’s imitation/reflection is imitated again on the canvas. In this way, the artist denies his subjective role, emulating the objective or truthful reflection in the mirror. Due to its synonymous relationship with truth, objectivity is recognized as being more powerful than the artist’s naturally subjective hand. According to Leonardo da Vinci, who was famously fixated on all aspects of the object, the mirror was a teacher of artists and the highest possible visual perfection (Prater 65). In The Practice of Painting, a text with which Goya was familiar as an academy-trained artist, Leonardo explains the didactic nature of the mirror as a reference point when drawing or painting. Taking Leonardo’s teachings a bit further, Parmigianino’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror (1524) (Figure 6) is a composition painted directly on a wooden tondo, cut and then painted to look like a mirror. His self-portrait points to the importance of mirrors for artists and shows that the mirror image holds more truth than reality itself (Werness 97). In the theory of disegno interno, the artist’s depiction of an object is regarded as a divinely inspired visual truth. Furthermore, the distortion caused by the convex surface in Parmigianino’s composition highlights this relationship between the circular mirror, the artist’s exaggerated hand, and the light of god providing him with objective drawing skill (“Disegno”).