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The Fable of Arachne (Las Hilanderas), Oil by Diego Velazquez (1599-1660, Spain)
Las Hilanderas is a late masterpiece by the Spanish painter Diego Velázquez, painted for Don Pedro de Arce, huntsman to King Philip IV. The private patronage of the painting has caused it to be shrouded in some mystery, one uncertainty being its date of creation. Stylistic elements, such as the lightness, the economical use of paint, and the clear influence of the Italian Baroque, have led many scholars to assert that it was painted in 1657. Others place it earlier, at some time between 1644-50, perhaps because certain aspects of its form and content recall the bodegones Velázquez painted in his early career. The second ambiguity concerns the subject matter. Traditionally, it was believed that the painting depicted women workers in the tapestry workshop of Santa Isabel. In 1948, however, Diego Angula observed that the iconography suggested Ovid's Fable of Arachne, the story of the mortal Arachne who dared to challenge the goddess Athena to a weaving competition and, in losing the contest, was turned into a spider. This is now generally accepted as the correct interpretation of the painting.