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Peaceful reconciliation

Posted June. 29, 2023 07:56,   

Updated June. 29, 2023 07:56


Diego Velázquez, a court painter for Philip the Fourth of Spain, created portraits during his life. At the age of 36, he created a historical painting for the first and last time, titled “The Surrender of Breda” (1634-1635, photo), known as one of the most important historical paintings of the 17th century.

The painting depicts an event that occurred during the end of the Dutch Independence War, also known as the Eighty Years’ War. The war shows the surrender of the Dutch army Breda, which rebelled against the Spanish army. It was on June 5, 1625, when Justinus van Nassau, the governor of the Netherlands, rebels against Spanish admiral Ambrogio Spinola as he handed over the keys of the city. The Spanish army had horses, many soldiers, and shiny armor. On the other hand, the Dutch army looks tired. Most of their weapons are discarded or destroyed. The painter focused on reconciliation as the theme instead of the violence of war, which explains why the painting, despite depicting the war, appears still and romantic. How did the painter create such a realistic scene when he did not take part in the war?

The artist created the painting upon returning from his trip to Italy, accompanied by Spinola. Hence the description was from none other than Spinola himself. He was known to get down from his horse and embrace the defeated governor with a friendly gesture. He saluted and praised his courage and patience in defending his army. He had forbidden any ridicule or abuse of the Dutch. The tolerance he showed to the Dutch army was captured in the painting forever.

The painting was created at the king’s order to decorate the palace. In other words, it was propaganda art to glorify Spain’s military achievement. Though the artist emphasized the scene of reconciliation between the two countries, one cannot help but notice the burning and smoking villages in the background. It makes us wonder if true reconciliation in war can exist.