[Diego Velazquez] was the court painter of King Philip IV. "Las Meninas," completed four years before his death, is probably his most famous work. The huge painting has an unusual perspective, for it depicts the Infanta Margarita, her maids of honor, two dwarfs and three other attendants in a room with Velazquez while he paints the portrait of King Philip and Queen Mariana. Only a mirrored reflection of the king and queen can be seen, for they are outside the canvas. Anyone looking at the painting is standing just where the king and queen should be standing.
For many years, it has been difficult for visitors to the Prado to appreciate the full magnificence of "Las Meninas." The varnish that was put on the painting in its last cleaning, in 1871, had become dark and discolored. On top of this, the painting was exhibited in a small, dark room. A mirror was placed on the opposite wall, the theory being that Velazquez must have used a mirror to paint the scene. By looking through the mirror in the gallery, a visitor could imagine that he was seeing the scene just as Velazquez did in the 17th Century.
"You can consider it very brave or very foolhardy for the Prado to bring in a foreigner," he said. "You cannot imagine the French calling in a foreigner to clean their greatest French painting. You cannot imagine the British calling in a foreigner to clean their greatest British painting. You cannot imagine the Italians calling in a foreigner to clean their greatest Italian painting. It was a terrible slap in the face for the Spanish restorers."