The art historian and travel writer Michael Jacobs died last year, leaving a literary legacy at once irresistibly idiosyncratic and unobtrusively learned. In particular he wrote uniquely about the nation, culture and history of Spain, where he lived for much of his life and to which he was devoted. It is only proper that his final work should concern a supreme icon of Spanishness, Diego Velázquez’s masterpiece Las Meninas.
Everyone knows this painting. It must be one of the most famous works of art, reproduced all over the world, assessed in every reference book and truly representative of the Spanish tradition. For generations, scholars have analysed its brilliant technique and wondered about its meanings; Las Meninas is the supreme enigma picture, a riddle and a mystery, and for Jacobs it offered a lifelong challenge to his own complicated intellect.
The result is this fascinatingly confused and confusing book, which he never finished. Only a third of