Surrender At Breda Analysis Essay

The following pigment analysis is based on the technical examination of Velázquez’s paintings in the Museo del Prado in Madrid (1).




1 White ground, top edge: lead white with small amounts of calcite.
2 Blue sky: lead white, azurite with small amounts of charcoal black/bone black, red ochre and calcite.


3 White ground, top tacking edge: lead white with small amounts of calcite.


4 Green vegetation in lower edge near right corner: lead white, azurite, yellow lake with small amounts of yellow ochre/red ochre, charcoal/bone black, calcite and vermilion.


5 Blue-green sash of a boy dressed in white coat: azurite and lead white.
6 Right pant leg of Dutch official with keys: bone black, yellow-brown ochre, lead white, calcite with a small amount of red lake.


7 Right pant leg of Spinola, near the top of the boot: lead white, red/yellow ochres, charcoal/bone black and calcite with small amounts of red lake, azurite, and smalt or glass.
8 Red sash of Spinola: red lake with small amounts of yellow ochre, bone black, and calcite.
9 Yellow-brown decoration at bottom of Spinola’s sash: lead white, yellow ochre with small amounts of calcite, charcoal/bone black, azurite and red lake.


10 White collar of a man at far right: lead white with small amounts of calcite and possibly quartz.


11 Top of the left boot of the man in a turquoise dress: lead white, yellow/red ochres with small amounts of calcite, quartz, and charcoal/bone black.
12 Boot heel of a beige-coated man at left: yellow ochre, charcoal/bone black, lead white, gypsum with small amounts of red-brown ochre, red lake, and calcite.
13 Brown vegetation near the foot of beige-coated man: lead white, charcoal/bone black, brown ochre or umber, calcite, gypsum with small amounts of red lake and azurite.


14 Blue sky: several layers.

1 blue layer: lead white and azurite.
2 nearly white ground: lead white with some black and ochre.


15 Black mane of the horse: bone black with possibly an organic brown.

16 Green clump of vegetation below Spinola’s right foot: lead white, red/yellow ochres, calcite, green earth with small amounts of azurite and charcoal/bone black.


17 Brown-green ground at right edge: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 pale orange-brown layer: clay-rich ochre and gypsum
2 blue-green layer: lead white, calcite, azurite and yellow ochre
3 gray layer: indistinctly separated from layer no 2
4 gray-beige layer: lead white, calcite and ochre
5 grayish ground: lead white and charcoal black


18 Reddish brown pant leg, figure at left: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 discontinuous red-brown layer
2 discontinuous light red-brown layer
3 warm beige layer
4 beige layer, slightly redder than layer no 3
5 grayish ground


19 Brown-green ground, near right edge: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 discontinuous orange-brown layer
2 discontinuous grayish-brown layer
3  discontinuous grayish-brown layer, slightly darker than no 2
4 grayish ground: lead white and charcoal black


20 Ground plane near the boot of soldier at left: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 orange-gray layer
2 gray ground: lead white and charcoal black


21 Horse’s hoof: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 gray layer overlain by a slightly lighter warm brownish-gray layer
2 gray ground: lead white and charcoal black


22 Blue uniform of soldier at left: several layers (from top to bottom)

1 blue layer: lead white, azurite and glass or quartz, clay
2 beige-gray layer: lead white, ochre and glass or quartz
3 gray ground: lead white and charcoal black



(1) McKim-Smith, G., Andersen-Bergdoll, G., Newman, R.  Examining Velazquez, Yale University Press, 1988, pp 118 – 120.  Buy this book at: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon DE.

Velázquez's The Surrender of Breda was part of a huge decoration project commissioned by the Spanish minister, count Olivares. In 1630, even as Spain was sinking ever deeper into political and economic mire, Olivares decided to glorify the image of the Spanish court by building a new pleasure palace just east of Madrid, known today as the Buen Retiro.

This project developed into a whole complex of buildings, alleys, gardens, fountains and chapels which was devoted to various forms of courtly spectacle, including theatre and musical performances, tournaments and jousts, and the fine arts (sculpture, painting, and tapestry).

One of the greatest challenges of developing this fantastic complex, of course, was the decoration. Olivares made use of hundreds of paintings in the royal collection that had been brought to Spain from Italy and Flanders, but for the most important room in the palace, the Hall of Realms, Olivares wanted something particularly magnificent.

Olivares thus commissioned three separate cycles of paintings for the Hall of Realms: twelve paintings depicting Spanish victories under Philip IV, ten paintings from the life of Hercules (the god claimed by virtually every major European dynasty as the founder of their families), and a group of five equestrian portraits portraying Philip III and Margaret of Austria, Philip IV and Isabella of Bourbon, and the crown prince Baltasar Carlos. These portraits were intended to establish the legitimacy of the Spanish Habsburg dynasty and illustrate their succession to the throne.

Velázquez was not the only artist who was put to work to execute these numerous commissions. In fact, the busiest artist of all was his contemporary, fellow star of the Spanish Baroque, Francisco Zurbaran, who was in charge of the Hercules series and a battle scene, The Defence of Cadiz Against the English.

Velázquez was given the task of executing the equestrian portraits and one battle scene, The Surrender of Breda, which would depict the historical event of ten years ago described above. This work definitively constitutes the most important and most daring of all the paintings in the Hall of Realms, and has gone down in history as one of Velázquez's best and most intriguing paintings.

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