PEREDA, Antonio de
(b. 1611, Valladolid, d. 1678, Madrid)

The Relief of Genoa

Oil on canvas, 290 x 370 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

In 1630 the count-duke of Olivares decided to initiate a lavish program of artistic display by the construction of a new pleasure palace on the eastern border of Madrid which came to be known as the Buen Retiro. Here theatrical plays and spectacles would be staged, tournaments and jousts would be organized, and painting, sculpture, and tapestry would be displayed. Beginning in 1630 with a modest renovation of the royal apartment in San Jerónimo, the project was expanded in 1632 and again in 1633, culminating in a sizable complex of buildings surrounded by enormous gardens adorned by fountains, alleys and hermitage chapels. Once the structure was finished, Olivares faced with the mammoth problem of decorating the new palace, a problem that was solved by hundreds of pictures from Italy and Flanders and by commissioning as many works from local artists as they could paint. As for the works by royal artists and their disciples, the decoration of the Retiro was the major event of the 1630s and thus is a microcosm of court painting during the decade.

The Hall of Realms was the principal ceremonial room in the Buen Retiro Palace. Spanish palace decoration during the reign of Philip IV tended to be loosely programmed in comparison with Italian examples. However, the paintings in the Hall of realms, executed in 1634-35, offer an exception to the rule, for her the count-duke Olivares and his advisers invented a coherent, if straightforward program designed to magnify the power of the Spanish monarchy.

The principal element are twelve paintings of important military victories of Philip IV's reign, which demonstrate the invincibility of Spanish arms. These are complemented by ten scenes of the life of Hercules, who was claimed by the Spanish Habsburgs (and virtually every other ruling house of Europe) as the founding ancestor of the dynasty. The final component is a group of equestrian portraits of Philip III and Margaret of Austria, Philip IV and Isabella of Bourbon, and the heir to the throne, Baltasar Carlos, which embodies the idea of dynastic legitimacy and succession. From the 27 paintings the largest share went to Francisco de Zurbarán, who painted the Hercules scenes and the Defence of Cadiz. Velázquez obtained all five equestrian portraits and the Surrender of Breda. Vicente Carducho obtained the commission for three battle painting, while his pupil Félix Castelo was awarded one. Eugenio Cajés and his assistants and followers were given four subjects. The two remaining works fell into the hands of Juan Bautista Maino and Antonio de Pereda. The The Relief of Genoa is Pereda's contribution.

Pereda had an extraordinary facility in the genre of still-life. In certain passages of the battle painting, particularly in the silvery reflections of the pikemen's armour, he employs the same microscopic vision as in his still-lifes. However, the rest of the composition falls into the pattern used by the older court artists working on the decoration of the Buen Retiro. In fact, there is a marked similarity between the figure styles of Pereda and Carducho.

© Web Gallery of Art, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx.