The Surrender of Breda

La Rendición de Breda (English: The Surrender of Breda), also known as El Cuadro de las Lanzas or Las Lanzas, is a painting by Velázquez, painted during the years 1634–35, and inspired while Velazquez was visiting Italy with Ambrosio Spinola, the Italian general who conquered Breda on June 5, 1625. It is considered one of the Velázquez' best artworks. Jan Morris has called it "one of the most Spanish of all pictures"

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (June 6, 1599 – August 6, 1660) was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. He was an individualistic artist of the contemporary baroque period, important as a portrait artist.

In addition to numerous renditions of scenes of historical and cultural significance, he painted scores of portraits of the Spanish royal family, other notable European figures, and commoners, culminating in the production of his masterpiece Las Meninas (1656).

From the first quarter of the nineteenth century, Velázquez's artwork was a model for the realist and impressionist painters, in particular Édouard Manet. Since that time, more modern artists, including Spain's Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí, as well as the Anglo-Irish painter Francis Bacon, have paid tribute to Velázquez by recreating several of his most famous works.

The capture of Breda in 1625 was one of the few major successes of Spanish arms in the latter stages of the Eighty Years' War. The Spanish general, the Genoese aristocrat Ambrosio Spinola, conquered Breda in contradiction to the instructions of his superiors. Even before its capture the Spanish government had already decided that siege warfare of heavily defended towns of the Low Countries was too wasteful and that it would concentrate on the economic blockade of the Dutch republic. By then the the bulk of Spanish forces were being diverted to the unfolding vast Thirty Years War.

Breda, a city near the frontier of Holland proper had been occupied in 1567 by Alva, ten years afterwards recovered by Holach, and again seized by Hautepenne. The town was the seat of the Orange family, who had a fortified castle called the “Vale of Tempe. In 1624, the suspension of hostilities in Germany enabled the Spanish to concentrate their forces in that direction.

Although attacking such a formidable fortress was widely considered to be an unwise move, Ambrosio Spinola made the bewildering executive decision to march on Breda. The Marquis de Leganés and Carlos Coloma also accompanied Spinola to Breda.

Spinola made a military reputation for himself when he was rewarded with the Golden Fleece in 1604, for he conquering Ostend in Flanders. Consequently, the siege of Breda was not only a clash between the Netherlands and Spain, but a “decisive contest between two famous generals, [Spinola and Dutch general Nassau], both well versed in the arts of fortification, who had their renown at stake.”

Defending the Dutch, Maurice of Nassau put up a hostile battle against Spinola, but died before the end of the siege. His successor, Henry Frederick, unsuccessfully attempted to revive Dutch momentum, but ultimately surrendered in May. The terms of defeat at Breda were some of the most honorable and lenient of the time.

Spinola’s success and bravery in the battle inspired Velázquez’s The Surrender of Breda.
The town of Breda had already reverted to the Dutch when Velázquez was painting The Surrender of Breda and its conqueror, Ambrosio Spinola was dead.
Spinola died in the autumn of 1630, only a year after Velazquez had sailed with him on the voyage to Italy.

Velázquez painted The Surrender of Breda as an emblem of Spanish nationalism and as a tribute to Ambrosio Spinola. Diego Velázquez and Ambrosio Spinola had been thrown closely together “During the voyage from Barcelona to Genoa, in 1629… The artist must also have been more deeply affected than others by the tragic result of the siege of Casale, which occurred soon after the voyage - how Spinola was shamefully sacrificed; and how, mortified at the slur cast on his military honor, he soon after sank with gloomy thoughts into the grave.”

Velázquez felt seriously discouraged after Ambrosio Spinola’s death and sought to legitimize Spinola. Velázquez acquaintance with Spinola inspired Velázquez to paint The Surrender of Breda as a tribute to Spinola’s legacy.

The Surrender of Breda was one of twelve life-size battle scenes intended to perpetuate victories won by Philip IV’s armies that hung in the Salon de los Reinos in Buen Retiro. It illustrates the exchange of keys that occurred three days after the capitulation between Spain and the Netherlands was signed on June 5, 1625. Hence, the focus of the painting is not on the battle itself, but rather the reconciliation.

The key is “the precise center of his design, it in an emphatic parallelogram so that it becomes the focus of the entire large canvas—literally the key to the composition, locking all other components into place.” The center of the painting, literally and figuratively, is on the key given to Spinola by Justin Nassau. The remarkable quality of this battle painting is its static and sentimental qualities.

According to the statement made by eye-witnesses both [Spinola and Nassau] had dismounted and Spinola awaited the arrival of Justin surrounded by a “crown” of princes and officers of high birth. The governor then presented himself with his family, kinsfolk and distinguished students of the military academy, who had been shut up in the place during the siege. Spinola greeted and embraced his vanquished opponent with a kindly expression and still more kindly words, in which praised the courage and endurance of the protracted defense.

The extraordinary respect and dignity Spinola demonstrated towards the Dutch army is praised through The Surrender of Breda. Spinola “had forbidden his troops to jeer at, or otherwise abuse, the vanquished Dutch, and, according to a contemporary report, he himself saluted Justin” The painting demonstrates the glimpses of humanity that can be exposed as a result of war, and commends Spinola’s consideration for Nassau and the Dutch army.

Velázquez’s relationship with Spinola makes The Surrender of Breda especially historically accurate. The depiction of Spinola is undoubtedly accurate, and Spinola’s memory of the battle contributed to the perspective with which Velázquez composed the painting. Velázquez’s knowledge of the intimate history of the siege of Breda makes The Surrender of Breda an especially important historical commentary. Velázquez “desired in his modest way to raise a monument to one of the most humane captains of the day, by giving permanence to his true figure in a manner of which he alone had the secret.” The Surrender of Breda salutes a moment of convergence between Spanish power, restraint, and kindness in the battle.