Behind the famous painting by Diego Velázquez lies a rich story of the artist's life in art
What began as propaganda art to celebrate a rare Spanish victory in the Eighty Years' War with Holland, The Surrender at Breda is today recognized as Velázquez's narrative masterpiece.
Breda is packed with vivid military detail—whole armies are suggested on the huge canvas, twelve feet high and eleven feet wide. Unlike typical surrender scenes, there is neither a heroic victor on horseback nor a vanquished commander on his knees. Instead the rivals appear on foot almost as equals. The loser bends forward to offer the key and receives a chivalrous pat on his shoulder, as if to say: "Fortune has favored me, but our roles might have been reversed."
Anthony Bailey examines the paintings from which the artist arose, coaxing stories from them that flesh out a complete portrait of one of the world's major artists whose personal life has remained largely unknown.
I. THE TURFSHIP. BREDA. 1590
The wing of a butterfly beats, we are told, and a million aftereffects later, far away, a tidal wave happens. In the chain of causation that matters here, what could be taken for a starting point was not an insect wing-beat but a spade cut, as a rectangular piece of peat was sliced from soggy ground and placed onto a barrow from which it was then loaded onto a high-sided barge, heaped up, turf upon turf, in a pile that resembled an earthen shed, hollow inside, though only a few were aware of this fact. From the riverbank, where the loading was taking place,
"A superb account....wonderfully written."—The New Yorker
"Filled with rich detail and lush descriptions, this book, like the painting that inspired it, is remarkable for both its scope and its intimacy."—Barnes and Noble Review
"This highly provocative, rich, and savory feast challenges readers to see great art with fresh eyes and in context."—Kirkus
"In this witty, inquisitive, and redefining portrait…Bailey brings Velázquez forward as a brilliant and complex artist navigating an exciting and dangerous world and enables us to see his ‘split-screen’ compositions as the cutting-edge creations they were nearly four centuries ago."—Booklist, Starred Review