“On the Reverse” brings together about 100 works, displayed so their backs face the viewers.
In Diego Velázquez’s cryptic Las Meninas (1656), a portrait session appears to be in progress. The young Infanta Margaret Theresa, King Philip IV of Spain’s first child, is resplendently posed in the center of the frame, encircled by her entourage and a dog. Velázquez himself, brush and palette in hand, is standing off to the side and gazing at a large canvas, suggesting that he is painting the scene we are seeing. Or maybe not. The only glimpse we get of the depicted canvas, alas, is its reverse.
But for artist Miguel Ángel Blanco, Las Meninas invited a tantalizing contemplation of a rarely seen aspect of paintings. That thought has led him to curate a new exhibition at the Prado Museum in Madrid, which makes the case that a work of art is more than what’s on its face.