Colnaghi Collections_Vol 01 - Page 98

Fig. 11.2 Francisco de
Zurbarán, The Veil of Saint
Veronica (the Holy Face), ca.
1635-1640, oil on canvas,
70 x 51.5 cm, Stockholm,
National Museum.
be the dogmatic subject best suited to the representation of divine
beauty. Zurbarán painted several versions of the Immaculate
Conception, elaborating on a wealth of models. Among
these, the painting in the National Museum of Catalonia in
Barcelona (fig. 11.1), presents a meticulously crafted, intensely
spiritual image that refers to the Song of Songs. Blending earthly
and heavenly spheres, the artist portrays the statuesque figure
of the praying Virgin against a vaporous mass of golden clouds,
combining naturalistic elements of landscape with the insertion
of inscribed prayers and Marian epithets.
At the same time, the present painting testifies to Zurbarán’s
The softness of her red lips and rosy cheeks contrasts with the
highly distilled style, in which the absolute purity and geometry
firm contours of the light blue cloak, the crimson gown and ivory-
of forms seems to recall Antonello da Messina’s Virgin Annunciate
yellow scarf, enhancing the figure’s timeless, iconic beauty.
(Palermo, Palazzo Abatellis, ca. 1476) (see intro. fig. 4) and
anticipate Sassoferrato’s most renowned variations on the theme
Soria considered this canvas “markedly medieval in its devout,
of the Virgin at prayer (see intro. fig. 5). Within Zurbarán’s
earnest emotion, and its silent contemplation.” However, Zubarán’s
oeuvre, a similar combination of religious intensity and painterly
compositional and stylistic strategies are best understood in the
abstraction is to be found in the Holy Face (fig. 11.2) of ca. 1630,
context of contemporary Spanish society and his personal response
another subject he reiterated throughout his career. Similar to
to Caravaggio’s pictorial revolution. Unlike traditional icons, the
the Magnificat Anima Mea, this work betrays a taste for trompe l’oeil
Virgin is not presented frontally, but foreshortened in a three-
and a geometric, almost sculptural rendition of the ivory-white
quarter view. Space is organized around her elbows and joined
veil. Moreover, this canvas analogously portrays a three-quarter
hands, investigated with the aid of a Caravaggesque chiaroscuro.
view of Christ’s effigy, revealing Zurbarán’s orthodox yet original
Furthermore, the indefinite, metaphysical space indicated by the
activity as image and icon-maker.
clouds suggests that the subject presents “the manifestation of an
icon” (a notion elaborated by Victor Stoichita in his investigation
Fig. 11.1 Francisco de
Zurbarán, Immaculate
Conception, 1632, oil
on canvas, 252 x 170
cm, Barcelona, Museu
Nacional d’art de
of seventeenth-century visionary painting in Spain).
G iulia M artina W eston
Iconographically, the canvas examined here relates to contemporary
representations of the Immaculate Conception, which the painter
and writer on art Francisco Pacheco (1564-1644) proclaimed to
Soria, Paintings of Zurbarán, p. 144.
Victor I. Stoichita, Visionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art (London:
Reaktion Books, 1995), p. 199.


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