The aid of Cádiz, Zurbarán

The aid of Cádiz, Zurbarán
The aid of Cádiz, Zurbarán

On many occasions we have seen how painters treated a historical theme with great rigor and objectivity, this fact is much more complicated when instead of talking about a past event it is about an event close in time for the artist; at that moment, the painter becomes a chronicler of his own time and presenting a fact objectively, without being carried away by his feelings, is very difficult. The work we are analyzing here is one of those canvases in which the author has to carry out an exercise in objectivity to represent reality.

Zurbarán (1598 – 1664) was one of the most outstanding artists of the well-known Spanish Golden Age,a contemporary of Velázquez the artist stood out above all for his interpretations of religious themes, outlining as well as one of the most outstanding members of the Andalusian school. The work that we are analyzing here is en titled The defense of Cádiz against the English, also known as El succor de Cádiz, a large work in a horizontal format that is about three meters high and a little over three meters twenty wide and is painted in oil on canvas.


In the 1930s the artist was called by Felipe IV's favorite, the Count-Duke of Olivares, so that the artist from Badajoz could participate in the decoration of the Hall of the Kingdoms in the Palace of the Buen Retiro. It was a very important commission andnot only because it was for the king, but also because the artist worked together with Velázquez, the greatest exponent of painting of his time, who at that time was also preparing his painting of The Surrender of Breda for the same salon. Zurbarán's commission featured two large historical canvases and another ten smaller paintings containing scenes from the life of Hercules and which would be hung over the windows of the room.

Of the two history canvases, only this one has been preserved since the other canvas –also known as The Help of Cádiz by the Crown Fleet- has been lost. The work that concerns us here represents, first of all, the Spaniards commanded by Fernando Girón, governor of Cádiz, who appears seated due to his delicate state of he alth. The governor, along with his main allies, are on top of the city wall. The work perfectly represents the figures in the foreground with great realism and thoroughness, however the characters do not seem to establish any dialogue with each other and when we focus on the scene in the background we can appreciate certain deficiencies, especially in the use of perspective, looking more like a theatrical background than a real scene.

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