VELÁZQUEZ, Diego Rodriguez de Silva y
(b. 1599, Sevilla, d. 1660, Madrid)

The Fable of Arachne (detail)

c. 1657
Oil on canvas
Museo del Prado, Madrid

There is a second room in the background, in an alcove reached by steps. It is flooded with light and contains several elegantly dressed women. The woman on the left wearing an antique helmet and with her arm raised is a figure of Athena. Opposite her - either really in the room, or part of the picture in the tapestry on the back wall? - stands the young Arachne, who has committed the sacrilegious act of comparing her skill in weaving with the goddess's. She has begun their competition with a tapestry showing one of the love affairs of Jupiter, the rape of Europa. Velázquez borrowed the theme of this tapestry from a famous picture by Titian, also extant in a copy by Rubens, to show his artistic veneration for the Venetian master. It is not clear whether the other women in the alcove with Arachne symbolize the four fine arts.