THE SURRENDER OF BREDA

(VELASQUEZ)

THÉOPHILE GAUTIER

The Surrender of Breda, better known under the name of Las Lanzas, mingles in the most exact proportion realism and grandeur. Truth pushed to the point of portraiture does not diminish in the slightest degree the dignity of the historical style.

A vast and spacious sky full of light and vapour, richly laid in with pure ultramarine, mingles its azure with the blue distances of an immense landscape where sheets of water gleam with silver. Here and there incendiary smoke ascends from the ground in fantastic wreaths and joins the clouds of the sky. In the foreground on each side, a numerous group is massed: here the Flemish troops, there the Spanish troops, leaving for the interview between the vanquished and victorious generals an open space which Velasquez has made a luminous opening with a glimpse of the distance where the glitter of the regiments and standards is indicated by a few masterly touches.

The Marquis of Spinola, bareheaded with hat and staff of command in hand, in his black armour damascened with gold, welcomes with a chivalrous courtesy that is affable and almost affectionate, as is customary between enemies who are generous and worthy of mutual esteem, the Governor of Breda, who is bowing and offering him the keys of the city in an attitude of noble humiliation.

The Surrender of Breda. Velasquez.

The Surrender of Breda.
Velasquez.

Flags quartered with white and blue, their folds agitated by the wind, break in the happiest manner the straight lines of the lances held upright by the Spaniards. The horse of the Marquis, represented almost foreshortened from the rear and with its head turned, is a skilful invention to tone down military symmetry, so unfavourable to painting.

It would not be easy to convey in words the chivalric pride and the Spanish grandeur which distinguish the heads of the officers forming the General's staff. They express the calm joy of triumph, tranquil pride of race, and familiarity with great events. These personages would have no need to bring proofs for their admittance into the orders of Santiago and Calatrava. Their bearing would admit them, so unmistakably are they hidalgos. Their long hair, their turned-up moustaches, their pointed beards, their steel gorgets, their corselets or their buff doublets render them in advance ancestral portraits to hang up, with their arms blazoned on the corner of the canvas, in the galleries of old castles. No one has known so well as Velasquez how to paint the gentleman with such superb familiarity, and, so to speak, as equal to equal. He is by no means a poor, embarrassed artist who only sees his models while they are posing and has never lived with them. He follows them in the privacy of the royal apartments, on great hunting-parties, and in ceremonies of pomp. He knows their bearing, their gestures, their attitudes, and their physiognomy; he himself is one of the King's favourites (privados del rey). Like themselves, and even more than they, he has les grandes et les petites entrées.20 The nobility of Spain having Velasquez for a portrait-painter could not say, like the lion of the fable: "Ah! if the lions only knew how to paint."

Velasquez takes his place naturally between Titian and Van Dyck as a painter of portraits. His colour is solidly and profoundly harmonious, without any false luxury and with no need of glitter. His magnificence is that of ancient hereditary fortunes. It has tranquillity, equality, and intimacy. We find no violent reds, greens, nor blues, no upstart glitter, no brilliant gew-gaws. All is restrained and subdued, but with a warm tone like that of old gold, or with a grey tone like the dead sheen of family silver. Gaudy and loud things will do for upstarts, but Don Diego Velasquez de Silva is too true a gentleman to make himself an object of remark in that manner, and, let us say, too good a painter also. Although a realist, he brings to his art a lofty grandeur, a disdain of useless detail, and an intentional sacrifice that plainly reveal the sovereign master. These sacrifices were not always those that another painter would have made. Velasquez chose to put in evidence what, it sometimes seems, should have been left in shadow. He extinguishes and he illuminates with apparent caprice, but the effect always justifies him.