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In every visit to the Prado Museum I reencounter with one of its art pieces and even if I have seen it numerous times it offers me new answers. This is what happened in my last visit, when in front of The Surrender of Breda (1634-1635) from Velázquez (1599-1660). How does he manage for this bellic scene to become a masterpiece? What makes it different from other historic war paintings?

Maybe it is thanks to its natural size figures and the plausibility that inspires the represented characters and animals, as well as the panoramic scenery behind. Maybe because of its credibility even though of its theatricality; a scene which is somewhat a choreography of the delivery of the keys of the city. Maybe what distinguishes Velázquez resides in its mastery to approach what happens and bring it to the viewer with total realism. Maybe because he dares to paint the smoking aroma after battle, in a city immortalized like an archetype of a conquered bastion. This is how Velázquez creates a masterpiece and converts it into an art reference both in this type of painting as in others. 

The Surrender of Breda or “Las lanzas”

Velázquez knew that the painting was destined to hang in the Hall of Realms of the former Buen Retiro palace. He aims to structure it taking in account the height it will have on the viewer’s sight when tracing a frontal perspective. What is achieved is that you feel an integral part of the act whilst contemplating it. 

In the center of the canvas, where all the frontal invisible lines converge with the attention of the spectator is where its two main characters meet. The winner Ambrosio de Spínola (1569-1630) and the defeated governor of the Dutch city of Breda, Justino de Nassau. The first, triumphant with a noble and friendly gesture, receives the keys to the city of Breda.

To the right of the viewer, the spears of the Spanish troops, all the same in orderly manner and military firmness with a limit of horizontal height. In contrast the disorganization of the devoted Dutch crowd. 

The winners and defeated. The idea of a masterly tale for art.  

All winners and defeated,  are represented by the artist with elegant and neat clothing. This is how Velázquez achieves to show that more than the end of war is the beginning of an honorable peace.

The takeover of the city by the victorious Spanish troops was soon divulged and represented in theatre by Calderón´s de la Barca play The Siege of Breda. Velázquez assisted  the staging in the Madrid Court. 

He never visited Flanders but he took counsel and inspiration of the experiences of those present. He also studied landscape paintings that tried meticulously to describe the geographic scenery. And achieved to learn in great detail the strategy that followed through the siege of the city. 

Spínola was decisive as a source of information. In Velázquez first trip to Italy (1629) he shared travels with Spínola on the ship that was taking him back, triumphant to retire in his birth town of Genova. Yes a glorious comeback but hurt by incomprehension and frustrated by the financial ruin provoked by his determination to become general for the Spanish troops in the Thirty Years War. Maybe it is what Velázquez could grasp during this unexpected cohabitation, what inspired the idea to produce his own tale of triumph and heroism which became a masterpiece for history and art.

Photography: Oscar Rivilla

Music: Electrophorus

Translation: Covadonga López-Fanjul

Art Direction: Oscar Rivilla and Carolina Verd

Main picture: dress by Maison Mesa; blouse by El Verso Store courtesy from Koa Press

Picture 2: dress and jacket by Antonio García Studio; hat from Lina Osorio for Maison Mesa

Picture 3: dress by Maison Mesa; hat by Lina Osorio for Maison Mesa

Picture 4: dress by Maison Mesa; hay by Lina Osorio for Maison Mesa