06 June 2008

People With Disabilities In the Google Graphic Today!

Wow! Today Google's Homepage is celebrating the birth of Diego Velasquez with a special Google logo containing his painting "Las Meninas" (The Ladies-in-Waiting). It'll only be there for a day, so I have posted a copy above. Velasquez is one of my favorite painters, so pardon me while I geek out. Here's the painting, so you can see it a little closer:

There are all sorts of awesome things about this painting which I suggest you read about. I've seen it in real life at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain. It's basically a painting of five-year-old La Infanta Margarita, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain (being a princess isn't all it's cracked up to be: forced to marry a man who was both her maternal uncle and paternal cousin, Margarita had six children and died at the tender age of twenty-one).

Anyway, to the far right of the painting you will see two enanos (dwarfs), the German Maria Barbola (who is an achondroplasia dwarf) and the Italian Nicolas Pertusato. At that time in history, dwarfs were frequently forced to be a part of the royal court, serving as a jester or other entertainment due to their appearance. In this article I found the following quote:
...modern conceptions of dignity of merit are understood in terms of a struggle to excel in particular activities, and thus to overcome the risk of failure. More radically, Velázquez' portraits of dwarfs and the mentally disabled are argued to be expressive of dignity, not by finding a positive representation of the sitter's dignity, or to find scales of activities by which they can be positively assessed, but rather by grounding their dignity, negatively, in a protest against indignity and humiliation.

Through his art, Velasquez was lobbying for disability rights centuries before the movement really took off. According to this interesting PBS piece about dwarfs in art, Velasquez was the first to paint subjects with disabilities with the same warmth and humanity used for his royal subjects-other painters created disabled subjects "with a cold detachment that reflected the 16th and 17th century attitude toward the handicapped."

Velasquez painted more than ten dwarfs during his career, as well as subjects with developmental disabilities. To me, the beauty in his paintings really lies within the eyes. I'll share two more beautiful portraits with you:

Don Sebastian de Morra (an achondroplasia dwarf)

Francisco Lezcano (a young boy with dwarfism and a developmental disability)

I will leave you with a link to the beautiful paintings and photography of Tim Lowly. One of Mr. Lowly's main subjects is his daughter Temma, a young woman with a severe anoxic brain injury. His work is very powerful and his images will stay with you.

Dave has declared today Harry and Kevin Day! Go find out why. Now celebrate!


Erika said...

As an art historian, I couldn't agree with you more or the assessment of Velazquez' treatment of the very people who were marginalized then, and often still, now. Beautiful reading of the painting and of V's intent. (Nice research too!)

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