Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Here's Velasquez' The Surrender at Breda (1634-5).

I remember seeing this at the Prado some years ago. Honestly, I think the only reason I stopped is that I lived near Breda (in Holland) as a child. To the contemporary eye it looks so conventional, with the Mona-Lisa-like plains in distance, all that attention paid to uniforms, the spears of the winning side thick and vertical, the ceremony of the vanquished handing over the keys to the city, etc. But the soldier on the left staring at the viewer strikes a more modern chord. Kind of arresting in his gaze. Almost steals the painting. There's another face looking out from the far right -- who is it? Some have suggested it's Velasquez himself.

I started writing this post last week, and lo and behold in today's NY Times there's a review of a show at the Metropolitan in NY about Velazquez and the controversy surrounding the painting, Portrait of a Man. The questions are two - who is it? and was it painted by Velasquez or his pupil, son-in-law Juan Bautista Martinez del Mazo? Although you practically need a magnifying glass to compare the figure on the far right of the Breda painting to the figure in Portrait of a Man, there definitely is a resemblance. A Facebook page for Velazquez would be really handy right now - or would he have been a MySpace guy?

Experts are leaning toward attributing the Portrait to Velazquez. By examining other paintings known to be created by his pupils, they point to those lesser paintings flaws: less confident brushwork, a less-taut shape of the collar, a muddiness around the jaw. To my untrained eye the Portrait certainly does seem to have been painted with an air of authority. Nothing equivocal about the choices made. What do you think?

(All the pictures on-line are muddy looking because the picture has just been restored; this one I took with my camera from the newspaper, so you can see the crease in the paper- sorry.)

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