Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 78

ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
This summary allows us to conclude that from the end of
the second decade of the seventeenth century, Pacheco
produced several representations of Our Lady of the
Immaculate Conception, with some iconographical
details recurring and others varying. While the
paragraphs quoted above were written years after the
execution of these works and their publication delayed
a further twelve or so years, his opinions on this subject
must have been known earlier, particularly by his pupils.
This explains why Velázquez’s version of the subject
(London, National Gallery) – which the present author
has dated to 1618-1619 8 – only complies with some of
Pacheco’s recommendations, namely the Virgin’s age,
her flowing hair, the oval sun, the twelve stars (although
they are not particularly defined,) the rays of light, the
transparent, downward-facing moon, the attributes of the
Earth and the absence of the dragon (fig. 3). Velázquez
did not, however, include the white tunic, the crown,
the seraphim, cherubim and other angels, which are
attributes of the heavens. The same is the case with the
version now with Fundación Focus-Abengoa in Seville,
which most authors also attribute to Velázquez, although
the present author believes it could be by Alonso Cano.9
Fig. 3 / Diego Velázquez,
Immaculate Conception,
1618-1619, oil on canvas,
135 x 101.6 cm, London,
National Gallery.
Differing in numerous respects and once again
featuring a red tunic is the work belonging to Baron de
Terrateig in Valencia, dated to the 1630s, and another,
updated one in the Granados Collection. Of these
nine depictions, the Virgin wears a crown in five of
them (the first three listed above and the versions in the
Archbishop’s Palace and the Esclavas concepcionistas,
both in Seville). The Holy Trinity is only present in
the San Lorenzo painting of 1624, which also includes
full-length angels, as does the one in Navarre, while the
last two in the list of nine do not even have seraphim.7
Nevertheless, each features the downward pointing
moon, the oval, encircling sun and the twelve stars in a
pale circle among rays of light. These versions all have
the attributes of the Earth, but those of the heavens only
appear in the 1624 version and the two last examples.
The Virgin always has loose, flowing hair but the colour
is not as golden as Pacheco recommends in his text. The
dragon representing the devil is absent in all cases.
Looking at the dating of the above-mentioned works
by Pacheco and Velázquez (and also by Cano if he did
indeed produce the version in the Fundación FocusAbengoa, which must in any case date from before
1620), it is evident that none was painted before 1618-19.
In the opinion of the present author, it is important
to remember that on 12 September 1617, Pope Paul
V’s decretal Sanctissimus Dominus noster stated that no
one should dare to proclaim publicly that Mary was
conceived in original sin, thus banning the public
defence of the doctrine of the sanctification of the
Virgin subsequent to the existence of sin. This decretal
reached the court in Madrid on 8 October and Seville
two weeks later. In Seville various events had supported
the Immaculist viewpoint, but the decretal, which
implied papal support for this position, was celebrated
in a special way, as it was in many other places
across Philip III’s Spain. This explains the numerous
commissions for paintings of the Immaculate Virgin,
including the one by Velázquez, no doubt painted for
the Discalced Carmelites, and those by Pacheco of
1619 and 1621 for private patrons. In 1622 Gregory
XV once again defended the Immaculate Conception,
imposing absolute silence (inscriptis et sermonibus etiam
privatis) on those who spoke against the doctrine, among
them the Dominicans who followed Thomas Aquinus’s
arguments from the thirteenth century.
Even though there are no depictions of this subject by
Cano before 1638, the year he moved to the Court in
Madrid (other than an early example, the attribution
of which is questionable), this lengthy introduction
explains how Pacheco’s influence on the versions of
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception painted by
Cano between 1638 and 1652 is notable and will thus
be referred to frequently in this analysis.
Fig. 4 / Alonso Cano,
Immaculate Conception,
ca. 1648, oil on canvas,
destroyed, Madrid, church of
the Colegio Imperial.
Fig. 5 / Vicente Carducho,
Immaculate Conception,
1620-1625, oil on canvas,
160 x 119 cm, Madrid,
Private Collection.
The first of Cano’s versions is undoubtedly the one painted
for the church of the Colegio Imperial (fig. 4). There
have been numerous errors regarding its whereabouts,
date and commission. Wethey stated that it was in the
centre of the chapel of the Buen Consejo and that
the altarpiece was designed by Sebastián de Herrera
Barnuevo, leading him to date it to around 1642-1643
as opposed to 1632-1633, which was proposed by
María Elena Gómez Moreno (before the year of Cano’s
arrival at Court was known).10 In a publication of 2001
both Álvarez Lopera and the present author corrected
Wethey’s mistake. The chapel in which the painting was
located was the first on the Gospel side of the crossing,
dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, while the
chapel of the Buen Consejo was the third (although it
also housed paintings by Cano). Wethey did not realize
that the painting formed part of an altarpiece that also
included the Coronation of the Virgin (for which there are
two preparatory drawings, in the Uffizi and in a private
collection in Paris) above Our Lady of the Immaculate
Conception, while the lower level included Saint Stanislaus of
Kostka, Saint Joachim, the Infant Christ, Saint Anne and Saint
Hyacinth. The entire altarpiece, including the central
painting, which was moved to the sacristy after 1671,
was destroyed in 1936.11
The present author did not agree with Álvarez
Lopera regarding the dating of the painting to
Cano’s “early years in Madrid,” nor with his view on
the commission, which he believed had come from
the rectors of the Colegio (implying a relationship
with the Count Duke of Olivares, given that three
successive confessors to Olivares lived there) and not
from Isabel de Tébar y Robles, patron of the chapel,
whom he considered “simply the tenant of one of the
Colegio Imperiale’s houses.” In 1627 this lady had
established a memorial bequest in perpetuity to be
administered by the Colegio, which she made her heir,
bequeathing it among other goods an annual income
of 10,000 reales. She also ordered the founding of a
seminary with twelve places and another for the study
of humanities (only the latter was carried out), and a


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