The Ladies-in-Waiting

This graphic novel (192 pages) was published in August of 2017 by Fantagraphics Books. The book takes you to the court of Spain and the Prado. David read The Ladies-in-Waiting and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if he didn't recommend it.

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The Ladies-in-Waiting

Santiago Garcia, Javier Olivares

This is a devastatingly good graphic novel about the painting ‘Las Meninas’ (Ladies-In-Waiting), created in 1656 by Diego Velázquez. For centuries, art lovers and experts have wondered — what’s it all about?

In case you’re not up-to-date on your Baroque Spanish masters, a brief primer: For most of his life, Velázquez was a portrait painter for the court of Philip IV, King of Spain and Portugal. Velázquez was very good at portraiture. He was the Instagram of his day, an in-demand painter who captured images of the rich and famous with their toys and their friends: Here’s the king, here’s his daughter, here’s the prince with a dwarf they kept around the court for amusement.

And then, just a few years before his death, he produced his masterpiece, a painting that some people have called ‘one of the most important paintings in art history.’ That painting came to be known as ‘Las Meninas.’

This painting is epic in all senses of the word, including its physical size. More than 10 feet wide and 9 feet tall (300cm x 275cm), it feels like it surrounds you when viewed in person at the Prado in Madrid.

‘Las Meninas’ depicts a large room with a high ceiling — Velázquez’s studio. The central figure in the image is the king’s daughter. She wears a fancy white dress, and the frame is crowded with people, some attending to her — the ‘ladies in waiting’ of the title. There’s a mastiff in the foreground and a man in the far background who seems to be leaving the room — or maybe he’s coming in. And there is Velázquez himself, painting at an easel. Perhaps most compelling, two figures are reflected in a mirror on the far back wall. Experts have said that these are the king and queen.

This boldly drawn graphic novel describes how ‘Las Meninas’ came to be and how it influenced other artists, including Goya, Dalí, and Picasso, who notably spent a summer making 54 copies of the painting in his style.

The story is told episodically, bounding around time to provide a complete view of the painting through the ages, from its birth in the 1600s to now. The authors Santiago Garcia and Javier Olivares use strong black lines, bright splashes of color, and an entertaining narrative to explore history and emotion; the pages are both simple and rich.

They also present a compelling argument for their theory of this landmark painting — why it was painted, who it was for, and what the people depicted in ‘Las Meninas’ are doing. This book is a fantastic example of the power of cartooning, and it will bring you closer to a great work of art.

a panel from the graphic novel showing the artist talking about his art, drawn in black, white, and gray

a panel from the graphic novel showing a building with a dome in Rome, drawn in black, white, and gold

a panel from the graphic novel showing the artist's parents talking about what to name velazquez, drawn in black, white, and orange

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