Essays & Lectures

Velázquez's Pendulum

1. During the XVII Century an intellectual movement, supported by power, flourished on several fronts. We all know the story of one of its victims. In June 1633, Galilei Galilee was forced to repudiate his ideas before a tribunal of the Inquisition presided over by Pope Urban VIII:

“With sincere heart and unfeigned faith, I abjure, curse and detest my errors. I swear that in the future I will never again say or assert, verbally or in writing, anything to encourage this suspicion.” [1]

Immediately thereafter, the legend goes, he murmured to himself: “Eppur si muove!” (“Y sin embargo, se mueve”) “Any way, it moves!” Against his will, Galilee declared false what he knew was unquestionably true: that the Earth revolves around the Sun. He had written, not long before:

“If to say the earth moves is heresy, while demonstrations and observations show it does move, in what predicament will the Holy Church have placed itself?” [2]

The tribunal nailed the Earth to the Earth and Galilee to his home, commuting his death sentence to house arrest. He was brought to a standstill. And there, defeated, “he picked up old problems that had confused him in his youth, solved them, polished the work, and produced his most enduring scientific legacy... By 1636 he had completed his Discourses on the Two New Sciences. It was a work of pure science (...) it was a work of physics, and it advances his “new science of motion” in which his view of time and space was radical and fresh and in which he discovered the first law of motion (...) In the physical world, motion was just as natural as rest”. [3]

In 1641, at the age of 77, having lost other several rounds to the Vatican, still under house arrest, and now totally blind, Galileo turned his attention to the problem of using a pendulum in a clock to improve its accuracy. In Vivendi's account:

“Galilee began to ponder how to measure time and one day, in 1641, when I was living with him in his Villa of Arcetri, I remember how it came to him in a flash that a pendulum could be fixed to clocks that had counterpoises and springs in such a way that the regular and natural motion of the pendulum would correct all the imperfections in the construction of these clocks”. [4]

"Very well," Galilee must have said to himself. "They won't allow the earth to move and I can't move either. They think the two of us can be stopped? To hell with them! I'll turn their punishment to my advantage. With these two axes, I'll design a device that will precisely measure how time passes; I'll invent a motion to measure an instant."

Galilee took the pendulum to its extreme: his pendulum was always an imaginary one. He never actually built a pendulum; he only designed it and saw it move in his imagination.

Why did Galileo, immobilized and crushed by the Vatican, settled on the idea of a pendulum, and not stay devoted to his study of the fall of bodies, which years later Newton would take up? I suspect that Galileo sought refuge in the pendulum, attracted -in his blindness and humiliation- by the nature of the pendulum, by the poetic soul of the pendulum.

I will define the poetic nature, the essence, of the pendulum.

2. The pendulum is that which runs without going anywhere.
The pendulum flees but can never leave.
The pendulum is an escape that keeps escaping, but never escapes.
The pendulum is a journey that hasn't cut its umbilical cord.
The pendulum is Oedipus making love to his mother.
The pendulum elegizes the center of the circle.
The pendulum makes fun of the center of the circle, makes a Sisyphus out of the center of the circle.
The pendulum betrays the order of the Sun. A ray of sunlight follows a direct line, it advances, runs, it brings into existence the straight line. The straight line is solar. The straight line is vital. The straight line heads for, advances towards, is united with the Song of the Universe.
The pendulum is the opposite of the straight line. It is a straight line whose rigidity turns it into a curve.
A ray of sunlight is pliant, flexible. It is wise flexibility drawing a line.
The pendulum is all about returning.
The pendulum is either deaf, or only listens to itself.
The pendulum cannot know that the stars are singing for all eternity.
The pendulum is a circle interruptus.
The pendulum is the most monstrous of the animals in Pliny's zoology: its face is at the end of its tail. The pendulum never stops wagging its tail. The pendulum's eyes tiggers spasms, make everything blurry.
The pendulum has a fleeting glance, it is terrified. It cannot concentrate, cannot hold on to anything, can´t focus.
Since the face of the pendulum hangs from its tail, and there's a mirror on this face, our reflection is in the path of shit: in this way we're shown by the pendulum that our life hangs from a thread.
The pendulum is the ultimate refuge of the obsessed.
The pendulum is what the obsessed prisoner makes of his refuge.
The pendulum is washing your hands seventy times an hour to protect yourself from what your hands would prefer to be doing if you weren't washing them.
The pendulum follows the logic of the insane: it runs without stopping, it always returns to the same point.
The shackles around a slave's ankle work like a pendulum. Tied by one foot, the slave dances in a pendulum.
The pendulum is the dance of those in chains.
García Márquez's rooster, tied to the foot of the bed of the Colonel no one writes to, walks pendulum like.
The pendulum carries echoes of the suicidal.
The pendulum is the fine line between insanity and reason.
Whoever prays the Rosary, prays pendulum like. Job's prayer is pendulum-like: "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away." [5] The God of Job acts pendularly. David prays in a straight line.
The Pieta, with her son dead in her arms, weeps and prays pendularly.
The pendulum sobs.
The pendulum is one half of a scissors. Scissors are two pendulums that collide, two pendulums that don't obey Time -- the master of us all -- but instead obey the whim of the one who cuts, the blindness of the Inquisitor.
Scissors are a pendulum multiplied by two.
The pendulum is one blade of a scissors.
The pendulum is the widowed half of a scissors.

3. I am shifting now to another player in the Intellectual movement that imprisoned Galilee: the artist, Velázquez. Velázquez did his best to be close the Spanish Crown, the power that fought to enforce The Counter Reformation. He desired proximity to power, he got it, he was “In”. The crowd he belonged to was convinced it was its duty, even its divine duty, to enforce Good over Evil, orthodoxy against heresy, true religion against infidels and héretics. In the words of Quevedo -another protagonist of that time-:

“Spain´s defenses and weapons are as important to itself as to the rest of the world, for, without them, the arrogance of the Turks and the insolence of the Heretics would run wild without restrain, and in the Indias the idols go on been worshipped”. [6]

Let me turn from the poetic substance of the pendulum to the role of the pendulum in Velázquez´s canvases, his triumphant pendulum, a golden pendulum, the pearl of pendulums, a regal pendulum.

In Velázquez’ portraits and scenes the spectator sees an encapsulated world that leades nowhere but to itself.

Several of his backgrounds represent pure abstraction, like in the portrait of Jester Pablo de Valladolid.

Look at him: where on earth is he standing? The background is a visual representation of the ultimate abstraction. The figure is fixed and projects a shadow, but we feel it is moving. Like the pendulum, it is fixed and moves. Velázquez paints his portraits looking at the objects from the top to the bottom, a royal perspective. And in a slight, delicate way he slides them back and forth, erasing distances at the same time that he´s measuring them, erasing and measuring all objects with the strategy and capability of an obsessive. Like a pendulum. The painter of the Spanish Court, one of the greatest of all times, paints under the rule of the pendulum.

Velázquez has an obsessive eye radically different from that of the realist Caravaggio, or the exasperated, overheated Ribera, for he has decided to show us detail through the absence of the detail, slipping the image away from us, retiring it from our sight in order to bring it back, incomplete but --alas-- in almost a magical way perfect. Velázquez is a master of suggestion.

I said he slightly introduces a slight movement to his portraits, but he also fixes them, pins down the characters. What does he pin them to, if he also is placing them in nowhere-land? He plays with them pendularly. His relationship with movement is neurotic, I would dare say phobic, for simultaneously he seeks it, he wants it and he rejects it: he paints it without painting it. The artist’s relationship with its objects is pendular.

I´m going to focus on one of his canvases, La rendición de Breda, Las lanzas. The surrender of Breda.

In this canvas, Calvinists have been defeated by Hispanic Catholics. Imperial power is depicted as the earthly incarnation of Good. While looking at “Las lanzas”, no one would doubt that the victors are the personification of Kindness. They behave with utmost gentility. The treatment given to the defeated is exemplary. Spinola, the victorious Spanish general, leans forward upon receiving the keys of Breda from the hands of Justin of Nassau, so that the conquered general would not need to bend down to him. The Great Man receives with humility the keys from the hands of the vanquished. In the background, the army stands in formation as the conquered walk by, flanking them in a harmonious and respectful coexistence. Spanish figures are elegant, impressive and wealthy. Even the servant and the horse reek of money. This war scene is peaceful and orderly. Far, far away, smoke rises. Not where we are, amid cultivated, dignified civilians.

There´s no doubt that victory is in the appropriate hands, that the victory is a product of the arts of war -see the aligned “lanzas”, ruling over the scene: order-, as well as Harmony. There are no religious or spiritual hints in the scene, yet the canvas portrays something more than worldly harmony, for in an earthly order, victory would have lead to looting and violence. We are gazing at Cosmological Harmony. That´s why soldiers are not looting. We can see that other behaviour in Hogenberg´s gravures, which show the Flemish version of the Spanish Victories in Flandes.

“Las lanzas” leads me to quote Quevedo: “It was the right hand of God who won with El Cid, the same one that used as tools Gama and Pacheco and Albuquerque in the Indies to deprive the idols of peace. Who but God, whose hand is fear above all, protected Cortés so that he could accomplish such impossible deeds... It was God who ordered the day to stop in the Battle of Orán...”

On worldly grounds, victors are victors because they´re superior to the defeated. In front of these group of wealthy, dignified, elegant Spaniards -so different from Lope´s crowd, that we saw illuminated in “La Dorotea” in our first lecture-, there are the Flemish. They lack all dignity, apart from their general -though Velázquez has painted him much younger than he perfectly knew he was. A band of distracted, dreamy, disorganized boys. All of them seem slightly out of place, and the positions they take are far from sober, respectable, or dignified. They have nothing in common with Rembrandt's Calvinists whom we saw in that first lecture congregated around "The Anatomy Lesson").

In Rembrandt, the Flemish are dignified, wealthy, orderly, cultivated Calvinists all dressed in elegant dark clothes. In Velázquez, the Flemish are hardly wealthy; they are ne'er-do-wells, riffraff, pirates, perhaps,boys who would sell themselves for a pittance as slaves to go to the colonies to work. In Velázquez the wealthy are Spanish and the poor are the Flemish heretics. In Rembrandt, the rebellious Dutch are rich, sober, measured, and -very important- scientific: they are engaged in an anatomy lesson to study the muscle that moves the hand, the flexor digitorum superficialis, and they have begun the dissection not with the viscera as is customary (because that's what decomposes first in a dead body) but instead with the arm and the hand, to study its movement. The study of movement was an obsession of that era: Harvey with blood circulation, Galilee with the Theory of Heliocentricity, Descartes. The Calvinists solemnly and with great dignity, study the muscles that control the hand; they are shown studying movement, and in doing so they clash with the Vatican, its decrees and Catholic Spain.

In “Las lanzas”, the young Dutch dumbly sees his finger, losing track of the important, historical moment that´s going on in front of him.

Hand bis hand: the robber´s in Rembrandt allows the crowd of Flemish to contemplate a scientific point. The white shirted boy´s hand seems to prove the defeated ones are at the moon. They lost, and they´re lost.

In Rembrandt we have those who have been liberated from the pendulum, men of the future exploring the laws of physics and the wide dominion of Nature. In Velázquez, any of them could become a pirate in the Caribbean Sea. And the Spaniards, standing around the pendulum-tail of the horse, are Catholics, followers of the dictates of the Pope. Their very lances seem to move, tracing the circles that would drive the gears -guíers- designed by the prisoner Galilee.

Even the horse of the Spaniards is an educated character. He moves elegantly, his pendulum like tail adding rhythm and order to the scene. Whereas the Calvinists win a match, their horses behave like asses. Quevedo writes to the King of France a letter of complain:

(el ejército) “saqueó el lugar, degolló a la gente, forzó a las vírgenes y las monjas consagradas a Dios, quemó los templos y conventos y muchas religiosas; rompió las imágenes, profanó los vasos sacrosantos; últimamente, ¡oh Señor!, ¿díselo?

Si bien se espanta la alma de acordarse,
y con dolor rehusa la memoria
dió en las hostias consagradas, a sus caballos, el Santísimo Sacramento, que por escelencia se llama Eucaristía, bien de gracia, pan de los ángeles, carne y sangre de Cristo, cuerpo real y verdadero de Dios y Hombre” [7]

(The army looted the place, cut everybody´s necks, raped virgins and nuns consecrated to God, burnt the churches and the convents and many nuns; broke in pieces the images of the Saints, profaned the sacred vases, and finally, oh God, may I say it?:

For my soul trembles while remembers and with pain rejects what it recalls

gave the consecrated hosts to its horses, the Holy Sacrament, that for its excellency is called Eucharist... bread of the Angels, blood and flesh of Christ, royal and true body of God and Man”.

Horses that commit heresy, bis elegant exemplary proofs of Well behavior.

Velázquez leaves the pendulariam movement to the Spanish side. for the Flemish the masterhood of the line. The line in which they move forward, the line here, where this young soldier holds his weapon resting it over his shoulder. The pendulum is for the victorious. The angles in which the lanzas have been painted by Velázquez impregnate the canvas with the sense of movement: in Velázquez the pendulum triumphs. The pendulum is not a menace: it rules the rhythm, the tone, the spirit.

Galilee used the pendulum to defeat and voice his final imprisonment. Velázquez visual pendularianism has a different meaning. Let me try to grasp the poetic meaning of the pendulum in hands of power:

4. The pendulum goes against nature. It is obedience to the tyrant. Even if a tyrant has decreed a straight line, it will pick up and leave. A straight line flees naturally from the tyrant. The tyrant does not need to decree the movement of the pendulum, because the pendulum comes tied to the tyrant. When power uses the pendulum, que retiemble en sus centros las Tierra! (may the Earth shake at its center!)

When the pendulum is in the hands of power, we are all at risk. In the hands of the obsessive, the pendulum is a defense mechanism against hidden fears. In the hands of a tyrant, the pendulum becomes a guillotine. And if the tyrant who holds the pendulum prays the Rosary, we are in big trouble. Then, power prays in a pendulum: "Give me an army which prays the Rosary, and it will conquer the World." [8] The victory at Lepanto is a miracle of the Holy Rosary.

If intolerance has God on its side, what could be used to fight against it? The crucifix -powerful visual representation of bodily torture- is a pendulum whose lowest point has been immobilized. Its arms indicate where it would move if it could.

Leonardo da Vinci Vitruvian Man, his “Study of Proportions”, is the anti-pendulum, he is a man open to the world.

5. We´re seeing now, in “The Supper of Emmaus”, one of Velázquez's favorite recourses. Velázquez superimposes other paintings in his paintings, mirrors-canvases-windows appear in some of his masterpieces, “Las meninas”, “Christ in the house of Martha and Mary”, and in a different way in “Las hilanderas”, "The Fable of Arachne."

In the canvases I´ve mentioned we can see one of Velázquez's trademarks: a painting is inhabited by another painting, and within this painting there is a third painting, and in the case of the spinners there is even a fourth. In the foreground, the tapestry workshop, and to the left is the old teacher, or the goddess disguised as an old woman -- her exposed leg, eternally young, gives her away -- and to her right, the arrogant young woman who thinks she can weave better tapestries than Pallas Athena herself. In the background, in the back room, the old woman takes off her clothes, shows her helmet and armor, and is about to punish the arrogant Arachne, who has dared to say that she is a better spinner than the goddess. Behind her, one of the tapestries she's created to display her art, "The Rape of Europe." The fourth vision incorporated into the canvas is Arachne herself -- who almost becomes part of the tapestry, dissolving into the image of "The Rape of Europa." This fade-out, a master stroke of Velázquez, tells the end of the fable: Arachne, who has challenged the goddess Pallas Athena, is turned into a spider, and walks on the canvas which she had one day created with her gifted hands. For this reason the woman in the background seems, in a bizarre fashion, to become part of the sea scene of the kidnapped Europa.

At moments like this, Velázquez introduces one work of art into another. What is Velázquez doing? Is he painting in the background a reflection of what is happening in the foreground, is he telling parallel stories, providing a counter-narrative, adding referents, interpreting, creating enigmas? He inspires these and other questions in the spectator, supplies references, interpretations; adds horizons /joraizons/, meditates, thinks. And plays the pendulum.

Because Velázquez's superimposed scenes are somewhat pendularly: they are enclosed light, light that bounces off one wall against another within the space of the canvas. The scenes travel from the spectator to the depths of the painting, back and forth, mirror like, resonating like a bell through different layers of our conscious.

The journey taken by the light to the mirror and back again is no doubt like a pendulum, a deflected pendulum, a kinky pendulum, a pendulum that is envious of straight lines.

But in Velázquez, “mirrors” (let´s call them like that, though the word is not precise) don't envy straight lines at all, simply because they hardly obey them. The reflection of the Rokeby Venus in the mirror doesn't follow optical laws. In "Las Meninas" Velázquez doesn't obey either the laws of the vanishing point. The vanishing point isn't where the image of the king and queen is reflected or painted in the background, but rather where a courtier observes the scene, for no particular reason, behind an open door. Velázquez creates a center where a center cannot exist. He places a figure who is not central, a subaltern, at the vanishing point, who should be. Velázquez's mirrors aren't a direct, vertical coming and going, nor a precise zigzag. They are pendulums. When we're just about to capture them, they shift to another point. They embody the painter's obsessions.

The “mirror” that I´ll apply to "Las lanzas" in an attempt to penetrate it further, is a passage of Cervantes's "Numancia."

There’s more than one objection to pairing Cervantes with Quevedo. They do belong to the same generation -el Siglo de Oro Español-, but they are not exactly contemporaries, and though both are Spaniards they do have two different “national-racial” identities. They do not belong to the same social class, nor have the same aspirations and ambitions. Their art is not at all similar: Velázquez is coldly grounded in reality, Cervantes is crazily dancing in imagination territories. In fact it´s difficult to imagine two more opposite temperaments, Velázquez is ordered, had a stable life, only one wife, a behavior without blemish. Cervantes had to flee Spain young, accused and punished for “pecado nefando”, later on abandones the young wife he´s just married for interest, visits jail several times (when not for reasons of poverty -as did his father-, others because he accused of stealing from the taxes he´s been collecting, or because his “sisters” and possible daughter are accused of having a too merry life in the house he shares with them-, or because he´s been held captive by the Moors. Cervantes is haunted by poverty and bad luck. Bad luck to catch malaria at the Battle of Lepanto, to later become a slave to the the Moors in a Male-Harem, to be involved in the death of a Don Juan. Velázquez doesn´t have a drop of bitter fate. He’s accepted young in the Court, chosen over many other painters for his talent, and starts a glamorous and steadily ascending career as a courtier.

So why include Cervantes here, if he was never the writer of the Court -like Velázquez-, nor a scientist fighting the Church -like Galilee-? He did not try desperately as other writers -Lope, Quevedo- to be at the bedside of the King, didn´t desire to have the “official writer” appointment. Cervantes was, in his way, an outsider, a judío converso, and a voluntary outsider. He was not a man of power, nor did he want to lead opinion.

But Cervantes was a Spanish writer, and he did write a play about war, praising the courage of Spaniards against the Romans: “Numancia”. In this play, the Romans have invaded and conquered the Iberic Peninsula, only Numancia hasn´t yet been defeated. A new Roman General arrives, Cipion, decides to obtain the victory, gives a speech to his men, then besieges the city. The Numantines burn their goods, kill the Roman prisoners, eat them, starve, parents kill their children and women, and finally all commit suicide.

The Spanish soldiers in "Las lanzas" seem to have heard -and obeyed- Cipión's words, the speech that opens Cervantes´ Numancia, they play the pendulum with each other.

The Roman general praises the honor and "purity" of the army. Cipión's speech urges the soldiers to abandon the vices and bad habits they picked up while leading the easy life during the siege of Numancia:

“ Self conquered are ye; for beneath the sway of base lascivious vice ye lose renown, And while with love and wine ye sport and play, Ye scarce have strength to make your armor down. Blush then with all your mights, as well ye may, To see how this poor little Spanish town Bids bold defiance to the Roman host, And smites the hardest when beleaguered most.” [9]

The soldiers, away from their weapons, surrounded by prostitutes and other pleasures, have turned soft, and won't achieve victory. Their softening, according to Cipión, consists above all of three elements that must be corrected:

ONE, and first of all, to wage war, it is essential to get rid of any trace of foreignness. The Romans must stop seeming like raised in Bretain or Flemish:

“Ye seem to have reared at British fires, And drawn your parentage from Flemish sires” [10]

TWO: the soldiers who have gotten soft have become effeminate. "Defeminizing" them is of utmost importance, and he recommends:

You yourselves are vanquished, beaten are by a low fance for a gamesome sex, with Venus and for Bacchus, paramours- Nor raise your arms to warlike implements. Shame to ye now... (gordon willoughby james gyll, london, 1870).

Regarding pleasures, Cipión also makes recommendations:

For drinking let there be but one vessel; And beds which one time were a quite rest, All impure persons let them be discharged, And take their rest prostrate upon the earth. Let no true soldier have any other scent But what of rosin and strong pitch doth smell, Nor for a gourmandize of savoury metas, Apparatus from the kitchen use- For who in war these delicacies seeks Will ill know how to stout cruirass to bear. I wish no delicacy nor fragrance may Dwell in Numantia while Spaniards are there. [11]

THIRD RECOMMENDATION: to overcome laziness

“A slothful fortune low estate creates, But diligence, empire, and monarchy.” [12]

“What an imbecility strange is this! Imbecility engendered of sloth, Mortal enemy to manliness.” (Willoughby James Gyll)

Once these vices (feminization, surrender to pleasure, laziness and, greater than any other vice -- oh vice of vices -- disloyalty to their "Roman" identity, their lack of “homogeinigity”, their resembling the “foreigners”), the soldiers are ready to triumph in battle:

Nuestras promesas no se lleve el viento, (205) hacedlas verdaderas con la lanza”.

The soldiers of "Las lanzas" have listened and obeyed Cervantes´ Cipión. And in a certain respect, obeyed him overwhelmingly: they´ve already fought this battle, overcame differences and have become homogeneous.

Besides homogeinity, all in them is order. There´s no “war´s disorder”, as depicted in this representation of the same army by Altdorfer:

In “Las Lanzas” all has been cleaned, the image, the persons: the Spaniards have become very similar in looks to one another.

In ¨Las Lanzas¨, the figures of these seven Spaniards in the foreground and to the right of the canvas have nothing in common with the characters in "La Dorotea" by Lope de Vega, that we visited here in the first lecture. None seem to belong to the band of urchins desperate to find in some pocket (either their own or someone else's) a few coins, even the groom dresses better than the poor Flemish soldiers. That's not because Velázquez's brush isn't fond of the urchins in "La Dorotea"; the early Velázquez depicts them frequently the old woman frying eggs, the three men at the table, the water-seller, are characters who enter the atmosphere described by Lope in "La Dorotea", and that portrait better the diversity of races and classes that inhabited the Peninsula:

In “Las Lanzas”, we´re in another social class, and none look like “foreigners”. For "Las lanzas" Velázquez chooses "cleansed" Spaniards, rich, each one like the others. They don't seem to live in a land which for eight centuries had been home to Arabs and Jews; they all seem to share the same racial origin. They are the "ideal" Spaniards, the "pure" Spaniards.

There is no Juan de Pareja among them, none of the unique faces that Velázquez was so fond of. It seems as if these soldiers all went to the same tailor, the same barber, and were made from the same mold. One God, one faith, one baptism, one race, one country, and only one war, war in the name of Good, which here, as Velázquez portrays it, has triumphed, and has strengthened the Empire.

6 Are Velázquez and Cervantes apologists of the Spanish Crown, the fascist movement that was cleansing their peninsula of the Others, and defending the intellectual wave that nailed Galilee in house arrest, and forced him to deny what he knew was true? No. To call these artists apologists, judging them by their works, would be a complete misunderstanding of the nature of art.

Works of art do have meaning, or meanings, however, so a proper answer to the question has to be more than a simple, crude “no”.

First, Cervantes: El Quijote alone provides a sufficient ammunition for those who would deny he´s an apologist, but here let´s just consider “Numancia”:

1. Robert Marrast writes in his prologue to the Catedra Edition, that “Numancia contains an apology of the art of war”. It´s true, with respect to the initial words of this play, the speech of Cipión, the “cleansing” one, the fascist.

2. It is false because this opening speech of the Roman General is a hinge. After delivering it, Cipión behaves like a true pig: he refuses to fight the Spaniards honorably, he doesn't want to face them valiantly in battle, instead he orders that a moat be dug around the city to starve the Spaniards, so that, in their weakened state, representing no danger whatsoever, they could be put to death without spilling a drop of Roman blood.

In his opening harangue Cipión doesn't speak about his traitorous moats, but instead incites his soldiers to recover the "honor" necessary in all wars.

3. It is false because if someone was looking for a text to convince readers to oppose war, he or she might well turn to “Numancia”. To the extent that self-destruction is underneath the desire for war, Numancia provides one reason after another to be against war. The valiant Spaniards have the leading roles in scenes depicting cannibalism, bloody murders of loved ones, including a father killing wife and children. Before surrendering to the plunder of its goods and the rape of its women, the Numantines commit collective suicide, after having roasted and eaten the Roman prisoners. To add drama to the tragedy, those who haven't´yet killed their beloved ones or committed suicide, die of hunger on stage.

Numancia, as I said, begins with Cipión's oration extolling the "science" of war. In the second part, according to Marrast in the pointed Cátedra Edition, the besieged city represents "an apology for an intransigent patriotism that will not allow itself to be conquered by any other feeling; it is the glorification of the high value of resistance." Isn´t Cervantes telling us that when Nationalism is promoted by the science of war, a bonfire is the outcome, consuming goods, belongings, lives? Mass suicide follows. There is nothing left at the end except smoke and ashes.
Is that exemplary?

4. It is false, because Cervantes employs a Literary strategy that makes us feel uncomfortable with praising war, with recommending ethnic and moral cleansing, with linking heroism to suicide: “Numancia” -may Goethe and other admirers of the play pardon me- is stiff, at times trite, ridiculous, incompetent. Cervantes is here an unusual Cervantes. His language is clumsy and wooden, and the scenes blurry and half way painted, a clue to show us how little he likes the “heroic” actions he´s depicting.

Cervantes was a man of his time. He was a soldier himself -most probably for monetary reasons, having been forced to sell himself in “la leva”-. But he´s not an apologist of war, nor it is easy to distinguish in “Numancia” where lies Evil and where rests Good, for all turns to Death. There is a mindful awareness: War has destroyed them all. Goya´s War gravures connect with “Numancia”. The gaps, the silences and the words in Numancia are equivalent to Goya´s visualized horrors.

As for Velázquez, the “No” to answer the question has to be presented with more care, and with greater reluctance. He´s no apologist, true. He´s an artist. But he only had one friend, the King, and only one loyalty: to his art. Velázquez is an insider, but not only of the Court. He has shown us several other layers of Spain, a complex, not homogeneized world, that was captured and kept forever in his art. And here, he´s giving us other aspect of the Spanish mind, the one that power is promoting. In “Las lanzas”, he´s just opening one more window to the viewer onto Spanish XVII century reality. Once more, he gives us eyes to see, to remember, to understand. Apologists teach and conduct. Velázquez shows, represents and lets go.

7. All readings of works of art come dated. Mine was written in the shadow of Mr. Bush´s fight against Evil, his repeated references to God as the source of his legitimacy, his steps forward domestic cleansing, his assaults on laws protecting women´s rights and affirmative action, his dispensing tax cuts to the wealthy, while making life harder for us foreigners, and information less available to the media and public eye.

I have written these pages amid a hotly debated war, a “preventive” war against Iraq, where, yes, a tyrant rules, also a man of another age, who has literally burnt people at the stake. I´ve been re-reading Velázquez and Cervantes immersed in these days. At the same time, I´ve feel they´ve been avidly reading us. Revisiting their works became an excercise in reading our present. As Leonardo draws in his portrait of two hands painting one another, reality and representation seem to share the same arena:

Centuries later, Escher´s Drawing hands spoke of the same phenomenon:

We seem like Cervantes or Velázquez characters, while we´re looking at them, giving them life with our reading.

When I started to write these pages, I was obssesed with a pendulum. Which pendulum? Time´s pendulum. Not Galilee´s. It is Time itself that has moved like Galilee´s clock, back and forth, tied by dark waves.

Carmen Boullosa
New York, march, 2003.

[1] Cited on: “Galilee: a life”, James Reston, Jr. Harper Collins, 1994, New York.
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] ibid.
[5] Job 1:21 King James version
[6] Quevedo, Obras, “España defendida y las tiempos de ahora”, ed. Aguilar, p. 356.
[7] Quevedo, Obras completas. “Carta al Serenísimo, muy alto y muy poderoso Luis XIII, rey Cristianísimo de Francia (...) escríbela (Quevedo) en razón de las nefandas acciones y sacrílegos execrables que cometió contra el derecho divino y humano en la villa de Tillimón en Flandes Mos de Xatillon, hugonote, con el ejército descomulgado de franceses herejes” (1635). Edición Aguilar, p. 1835.  
[8] San Pío X
[9] ibid.
[10] “Numantia”, gibson´s version
[11] Gordon Willoughby James Gyll, London, 1870.  
[12] ibid.

Copyright © 2005 Carmen Boullosa. All Rights Reserved.