Velázquez and the representation of dignity

The purpose of this paper is to explore the visual representation of dignity, through the particular example of the seventeenth century Spanish painter Diego Velázquez. Velázquez works at a point in Western history when modern conceptions of dignity are beginning to be formed. It is argued that Velázquez' portraits of royalty and aristocracy articulate a tension between a feudal conception of majesty and a modern conception of the dignity of merit. On this level, modern conceptions of dignity of merit are understood in terms of a struggle to excel in particular activities, and thus to overcome the risk of failure. More radically, Velázquez' portraits of dwarfs and the mentally disabled are argued to be expressive of dignity, not by finding a positive representation of the sitter's dignity, or to find scales of activities by which they can be positively assessed, but rather by grounding their dignity, negatively, in a protest against indignity and humiliation. Drawing on Honneth's analysis of dignity in terms of a theory of recognition, it is argued that the indignity of the court dwarf lies in the fracturing of their communication with the rest of society. The task of repairing that fractured communication is achieved, not by representing a dignified ideal, but rather by drawing attention to the prejudices that serve to exclude the humiliated from full participation in society. In conclusion, it is suggested that the conceptualisation and representation of the elderly today finds effective exemplars in Velázquez' portraits of court dwarfs, rather than in his portraits of the elderly
Keywords ageing  art  dignity  disability  humiliation  recognition
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1023/A:1024162811282
 Save to my reading list
Follow the author(s)
My bibliography
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Revision history Request removal from index
Download options
PhilPapers Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy on self-archival     Papers currently archived: 23,209
External links
Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA
Andrew Edgar (2013). The Beauty of Sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 7 (1):100 - 120.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles
Carol V. A. Quinn (2008). Towards a Social Conception of Dignity. International Journal of Applied Philosophy 22 (1):89-101.
P. Allmark (2002). Death with Dignity. Journal of Medical Ethics 28 (4):255-257.
Lennart Nordenfelt (2003). Dignity and the Care of the Elderly. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 6 (2):103-110.
Lennart Nordenfelt (2004). The Varieties of Dignity. Health Care Analysis 12 (2):69-81.
Shaoping Gan (2009). Human Dignity as a Right. Frontiers of Philosophy in China 4 (3):370-384.
Diego S. Silva (2010). Dignity Promotion and Beneficence. Journal of Bioethical Inquiry 7 (4):365-372.
Jyl Gentzler (2003). What is a Death with Dignity? Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 28 (4):461 – 487.
Manuel Toscano (2011). Human Dignity as High Moral Status. Les ateliers de l'éthique/The Ethics Forum 6 (2):4-25.

Monthly downloads

Added to index


Total downloads

7 ( #507,588 of 1,941,042 )

Recent downloads (6 months)

1 ( #458,101 of 1,941,042 )

How can I increase my downloads?

My notes
Sign in to use this feature

Start a new thread
There  are no threads in this forum
Nothing in this forum yet.