The Surrender of Breda
by DIEGO RODRIGUEZ DE SILVA Y VELASQUEZ (Spanish School)
THE emoluments from Velasquez’s royal appointment were meager, but the
honors were abundant. He was constrained to associate with the idiots and
dwarfs, and paid the same salary-but there were perquisites.
He had a studio,
rent free, in the royal palace; he escaped the censorship of the Inqtusition and
was allowed to paint a nude, one of two in Spanish art, and he had leisure for
traveL In 1629, with Philip’s permission and a liberal allowance for current
expenses, Velasquez sailed for Italy in the company of the Marquis of Spinola,
the conqueror of Breda, in 1625, and heard the story of the Dutch siege from
the victor himself.
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Years later, about 1647, as a relief from the faces of the
Hapsburgs, he painted his great historical picture, The Surrender of Breda.
Velasquez, who painted by eye, that is, by his incredibly acute observation
of models placed before him, could not manage galloping horses or scenes of
action; and in dealmg with the Surrender, he wisely selected, not a dramatic
moment as Goya would have done, but the peaceful conclusion where the
vanquished Dutch commander steps forward from his men and submissively
offers the keys of Breda to Spmola, the gentleman leader of the Spanish
The scene has the optical truth and perfection of a camera record
the most unimpassioned rendering of a stirring event that was ever painted
-but in its Illusion of space and distance, of hght and all’, and in its blend
ing of tones, it far transcends the register of the camera.
In contrast to the
Dutch painters, men of similar aims but so thoroughly in love with httle things
that they cluttered their canvases with trifles, Velasquez focused attenti~on on
the essentials of the scene.
He arranged all his figures in the foreground in
order to reveal them as forcefully as possible, and to give full rein to his
amazing naturalistic skill.
Here is a historical episode visualized from a per
fectly detached point of view, without malice toward the conquered or enthusi
asm for the fortunate, without glowing ideals or annoying prejudices.
is history that is not denatured by classical formula or falsified by romantic
coloring, a circumstance in all respects credible and satisfactory because of
its clean objective truth.