The Vanishing Velázquez is a sumptuous, impressively erudite effort by Laura Cumming to retrace Snare’s attempts to determine the painting’s elusive pedigree. But it’s a good deal more than that. The book is a pair of biographies (Snare, Velázquez), a series of critical essays, a history of King Philip’s IV court, a cold-case mystery, a courtroom drama, an adventure story, a travelogue, a floor wax, a dessert topping. Whatever it is, it’s extremely accomplished — a gleaming work of someone at the peak of her craft.
Cumming sees representation as a way of making the past once more present, and this faith in a second coming brings to light her pursuit of a third vanished man – her father, the Scottish painter James Cumming ... Her book begins after his death in 1991, when during a grief-stricken trip to Madrid she was confronted by Las Meninas in the Prado. She saw it through her father’s eyes, and perhaps even saw him in it, since she fancies that he looked a little like Velázquez. No resurrection occurred, but the painting managed a small miracle, demonstrating, Cumming says in her conclusion, that 'the dead are with us, and so are the living consoled'. A museum is, after all, more than a graveyard of masterpieces; Cumming’s eloquent affection makes it a temple of the living presence.
If you’ve never had the chance to stand in front of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas at the Prado museum in Madrid, Laura Cumming’s brilliant tribute to the painter will make you yearn to ... Cumming traces poor Snare’s ordeals among the covetous and the incredulous, exploring the secrets of Velázquez’s genius as she goes. Her pages pulse with the power of art to change lives.
Using her own emotional responses to the full range of Velázquez’s work Cumming pulls us so deeply into the painter’s world that it seems as if we can feel the breath of his subjects on our cheeks, and see the sheeny sweat on their brows. This is art as resurrection, which is why Snare could never bear to let his Charles go.