Diego Vela zquez was called the "noblest and most commanding man among the artists of his country."" He was a master realist, and no painter has surpassed him in the ability to seize essential features and fix them on canvas with a few broad, sure strokes. "His men and women seem to breathe,"" it has been said; "his horses are full of action and his dogs of life."" Because of Vela zquez' great skill in merging color, light, space, rhythm of line, and mass in such a way that all have equal value, he was known as "the painter's painter,"" as demonstrated in the paintings Las Meninas, Sebastia n de Morra, and Baltasar Carlos and a Dwarf. .
Las Meninas is a pictorial summary and a commentary on the essential mystery of the visual world, as well as on the ambiguity that results when different states or levels interact or are juxtaposed. The painting of The Royal Family also known as Las Meninas has always been regarded as an unsurpassable masterpiece. According to Palomino, it was finished' in 1656, and, while Vela zquez was painting it, the King, the Queen, and the Infantas Mara Teresa and Margarita often came to watch him at work. In the painting, the painter himself is seen at the easel; the mirror on the rear wall reflects the half-length figures of Philip IV and Queen Mariana standing under a red curtain. The Infanta Margarita is in the center, attended by two Meninas, or maids of honor, Doña Isabel de Velasco and Doña Mara Sarmiento, who curtsy as the latter offers her mistress a drink of water in a bùcaro-a reddish earthen vessel -on a tray. In the right foreground stand a female dwarf, Mari-Ba rbola, and a midget, Nicola s de Pertusato, who playfully puts his foot on the back of the mastiff resting on the floor. Linked to this large group there is another formed by Doña Marcela de Ulloa, guardamujer de las damas de la Reina - attendant to the ladies-in-waiting-and an unidentified guardadamas, or escort to the same ladies.