Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 80

ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
that she left to her pious foundation, and Cano had
lived on the same block. Furthermore Diego Jacinto
owned houses that faced onto calle de los Bordadores,
the plazuela de Herradores and calle de las Hileras
(subsequently block 389 7, plot 8), opposite the house
where the painter lived, which could provide a further
explanation for the commission.14
The painting was destroyed but it is known through a
black and white photograph.15 Viewed with the necessary
precautions, it reveals that despite the intervening
years Cano made use of some iconographic elements
recommended by Pacheco. It cannot be determined
whether the Virgin’s mantle was blue (it probably was)
although the tunic certainly seems to be white; her hair,
on the other hand, is loose but seems to be very dark.
The sun is not oval but round, the Virgin is not crowned,
and the twelve stars are above her head forming an oval
that encloses the dove of the Holy Spirit. At her feet is
a transparent moon but the tips are not visible, nor are
the attributes of the Earth.
Fig. 6 / Alonso Cano,
Child Angels, pen and ink
on paper, 19.7 x 15.5 cm,
Madrid, Biblioteca
Nacional de España.
carved sculpture for the chapel, although in fact it was
the altarpiece with paintings by Cano, including Our
Lady of the Immaculate Conception, which was installed.
It was only some years later that the sculpture was
commissioned from José de Mora in order to comply
with her founding instructions. From this it can be
inferred that the commission reached Cano through
Isabel de Tébar’s relative Diego Jacinto de Tébar, who
entered the Company of Jesus in 1630, was Quevedo’s
confessor, and taught at the Colegio in 1648.12 Given
that it is known that in May 1646 the chapel housed a
large painting of The Annunciation which functioned as
its altarpiece, Cano’s paintings must be later than that
date, although probably quite close to it.13 Documents
subsequently published by the present author
demonstrate that Isabel de Tébar owned houses
on the calle Mayor (the future block 417, plot 12)
The image is particularly striking for the way in which
Mary places her right hand on her breast while showing
the open palm of her left hand. This gesture is unusual
but also found in a model attributed by the present
author to Vicente Carducho and dated ca. 1620-1626
(Madrid, Private Collection) (fig. 5).16 The arrangement
of the hands also determines the movement of the
mantle, which crosses from the left and falls to the right,
albeit slightly different to Pacheco’s arrangement.17
The traditional vertical emphasis of Mary’s pose is thus
modified by the movement of her hands and mantle,
which make her silhouette larger and tapered at both
ends, a tendency which would develop further later on.
Mary is surrounded by angels as recommended by
Pacheco – even if Pacheco himself did not follow
his own recommendation. There are two groups,
possibly of four each, in the lower zone bearing various
attributes such as white and mauve flowers and a
mirror, along with a pair of angels on each side at the
top, and a pair of seraphim at her feet. While the angels
are arranged at the top and bottom with apparent
symmetry, their poses are extremely dynamic, with
those at the bottom depicted with very pronounced
foreshortening, comparable to the angels by Velázquez
in his Coronation of the Virgin of 1636 (Madrid, Museo
Nacional del Prado). The present author identified the
two pairs at the top in a pen and ink drawing of child
angels in the Biblioteca Nacional de España (fig. 6).18
Fig. 7 / Alonso Cano,
Immaculate Conception, oil
on canvas, 215 x 412 cm,
Granada Cathedral.
The second depiction of the subject by Cano is a
signed work measuring 183 x 112 cm that Cano must
have painted in Madrid just before 1650 and which
was sent to the parish church in Berantevilla (Álava)
by Fray Pedro de Urbina y Montoya, a Franciscan
prelate who had been baptised there. It is likely that he
initiated the commission in Madrid during his time as
Bishop of Coria, before moving to become Archbishop
of Valencia, where he was also Viceroy and Captain
General (1650-1652). Urbina y Montoya was a staunch
defender of the Immaculate Conception, and Philip IV
entrusted him with managing its approval by the Pope
in Rome although he never in fact made the journey.19
Wethey lavished praise on the work in Berantevilla,
undoubtedly one of Cano’s most beautiful paintings. It
has been slightly cut down at the top, with the crown of
cherubim surrounding the Virgin cropped.20 Here Cano
follows a number of Pacheco’s guidelines. The Virgin is
a beautiful young girl with loose, although not golden,
hair, surrounded by an oval sun and crowned with
twelve stars among very faint rays of light, the moon
is shown with its tips facing downwards, and there are
child angels with flowers in the sky, in addition to the
above-mentioned cherubim. The mantle is blue but the
tunic is red. Mary’s pose and her hands clasped on the
right can be seen in a number of other examples by
Pacheco, although here she looks up towards the viewer.
The differences between this work and the version for
the chapel of the Colegio Imperial are surprising. They
include the Virgin’s gaze, pose and hands, along with
the colour of her tunic, the sun, the absence of the
dove and of many child angels, and, most importantly,
the less elongated proportions of the figure and the
splendid beauty that Cano gave her. Also worthy of
note is the dynamic effect achieved by the oblique
line of the drapery falling from right to left, with the
mantle billowing out considerably, and the protruding
knee that catches the resplendent light. The result is
unique, although it is not known whether the work
was created in response to the demands of a client or
whether the artist was acting in this case in a completely
independent fashion.
The next treatment of the theme by Cano is the
altarpiece in Granada, measuring 215 x 142 cm, which
was acquired by the cathedral chapter after Cano’s
death. In 1713 a small oratory was built adjoining the
chapterhouse where the painting was installed and still
remains today (fig. 7).21 Its relationship with the small
polychrome wood sculpture (fig. 8)(56 cm high) carved
by Cano in 1655-1656 has often been remarked upon.
This sculpture was made for the niche at the top of the
cathedral’s lectern but it aroused so much admiration
that it was moved to the sacristy.22 Nonetheless, the
differences between the sculpture and painting are
clear. In the altarpiece, the Virgin has her head turned
slightly to the right, gaze lowered, hair loose and hands
joined on the opposite side. She wears a white tunic and
blue mantle, with twelve stars between bursts of light,
an oval sun, and a downward-pointing moon. There is
a base with three cherubim, each with a pair of child
angels at either side in the lower area, those on left
holding a palm frond and violet irises, while those on
the right have white irises and roses.


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