Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 74

A rediscovered painting of Our Lady of
the Immaculate Conception by Alonso Cano
The Catholic Church recognizes as a dogma of faith
the belief that the Virgin Mary was free from original
sin from the moment of her conception, a miracle
known as the Immaculate Conception, conceptio sine
macula.1 While this belief had numerous adherents
from early Christian times and prevailed over various
specific objections, it did not become dogma until
8 December 1854 with Pope Pious XI’s apostolic
constitution Ineffabilis Deus. That text includes the
We declare, pronounce, and define that
the doctrine which holds that the most
Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance
of her conception, by a singular grace
and privilege granted by Almighty God,
in view of the merits of Jesus Christ,
the Saviour of the human race, was
preserved free from all stain of original
sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and
therefore to be believed firmly and
constantly by all the faithful.2
In Spain representations of the Virgin which refer to
this belief (and are discussed in this text) are today
generally entitled “Immaculate Conceptions” [from
the Spanish Inmaculada Concepción]. However, until the
nineteenth century the phrase used in texts was “Our
Lady of the Immaculate Conception” (Nuestra Señora
de la concepción inmaculada) or, on some occasions, “Our
Lady of the very pure Conception” (Nuestra Señora de
la concepción purísima), which seems to us a more precise
and appropriate usage.
From the point of view of the iconography of the
subject, the fundamental texts are by Francisco Pacheco
(1564-1644), particularly for painters in Seville of
his day. In this respect he influenced Velázquez, his
apprentice from 1610 to 1616, and Alonso Cano, who
entered his workshop in 1616 when Cano’s father
signed a contract of apprenticeship for a period of five
years (concluding at an unknown date). Pacheco’s texts
were also important for Zurbarán, even though this
artist did not pass through Pacheco’s workshop.
Pacheco entitled chapter XI of the third book of his
Arte de la Pintura, “Pintura de la Purísima Concepción
de Nuestra Señora.” Having observed that she should
not be depicted holding the Christ Child in her arms
and that the image should be based on the mysterious
woman seen by Saint John in the sky (Revelations, 12),
Pacheco states:
This Lady should thus be painted in
this very pure mystery in the flower of
her age, around twelve or thirteen years
old, a very beautiful young girl, with
lovely, grave eyes, a very perfect nose and
mouth and rosy cheeks, her beautiful hair
flowing loose and the colour of gold.3
Further on he states:
Her tunic should be painted white
and her mantle blue, as this Lady thus
appeared to Doña Beatriz de Silva, a
Portuguese woman, who subsequently


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