Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 83

ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
This work, which has always been highly praised, is
generally dated between 1660 and 1667 following
Wethey’s suggestion. It is closely related to the recently
rediscovered version previously with Coll & Cortés and
now in a private collection (see p. 76 and fig. 9).
his statement of some years earlier, that the Pelegrín
version measured 250 cm and could thus be the one in
the inventory of 1733, even though the commentary on
the work gives the dimensions as 212.5 x 172.5 cm, the
size given by Arnáiz. Wethey stated, furthermore, that it
was in a private collection, having previously said that it
was lost, and dated it broadly to 1660-1667.
Wethey refers to a version of Our Lady of the Immaculate
Conception,23 that he thought had been lost in 1936, but
which he knew from a photograph belonging to Enrique
Lafuente Ferrari. Unpublished and never referred to by
any author, the painting had been in the private chapel
of Mariano Pelegrín Dum in Lorca (Murcia) since
1921, after his grandfather had acquired it in Madrid
in 1870. According to information in his will, Pelegrín’s
grandfather had purchased it from the daughter or
granddaughter of its previous owner, who had in turn
acquired it from a monastery in Madrid as a work by
Alonso Cano. He bequeathed it to the church of San
Mateo in Lorca where it was displayed for many years
until the title-holder of a pious foundation decided to
remove it from the church. It was then returned to the
Pelegrín family and passed down to Mariano Pelegrín.
This story was written on the reverse of Lafuente Ferrari’s
photograph, along with the measurements of 250 x 150
cm, and a note that it was undoubtedly by Cano and in
every way similar to the one in the oratory of Granada
cathedral. Wethey observed that it was notably larger than
the one in the cathedral (the measurements of which he
gave as 211 x 130 cm). Although he dated the work to
1660-1667, he thought that it could have been painted in
Malaga during Cano’s time there between 1665 and 1666
and suggested that it might be the painting measuring 3
varas high (251 cm) recorded in the 1733 inventory of the
possessions of María Teresa de Pliego.24 With the caveat
that he only knew it from a poor quality photograph,
Wethey considered it to be an original by Cano, a version
– with some variations – of the example in the oratory of
Granada Cathedral.
Arnáiz knew this work in a private collection (the name
of which he does not provide), and published a black and
white photograph of reasonable quality.25 He believed it
was undoubtedly by Cano and one of his most beautiful
works, although he thought that the background may have
been painted by an assistant. Arnáiz gave the dimensions as
212.5 x 172.5 cm, on which basis it cannot be the painting
in the 1733 de Pliego inventory. He dated it after 1665 on
the basis of its “evolved” technique.
When Wethey’s book was published in Spanish,26 he
was already aware of Arnáiz’s article but he repeated
In 2010 Valdivieso published an extensive text on the
painting, with colour reproductions of the work.26
He wrote that it had passed into the ownership of
Magdalena Clara Maestre in Cartagena (Murcia),
from whom it was acquired by Coll & Cortés, Madrid
in 2010. Possibly influenced by Wethey’s hypothesis
that it could be the painting that belonged to de Pliego
in Malaga in 1733 (without referring to the different
measurements), he dated it to 1665-1666, in other
words, during Cano’s time in Malaga. He noted
the iconographical correspondences not only with
Pacheco’s recommendations, but also, for the first time,
with observations made by the Carmelite fray Juan
de Ruelas in his Hermosura corporal de la Madre de Dios
(The physical beauty of the mother of God), published
in 1621. Valdivieso considered it an undoubtedly
autograph work by Alonso Cano and related it to the
example in the oratory of Granada Cathedral, of the
same outstanding quality. He added that it must have
been the principal image in a private oratory.
Various conclusions can be drawn from this information
and from the work itself. The painting measures 212 x
172 cm – almost exactly 2½ x 2 varas – and as such its
height is similar to the altarpiece in Granada Cathedral
but it is a third of a vara wider. Firstly, it cannot be
the work recorded in the 1733 inventory or any other
known from documents as the measurements do not
coincide. Secondly, its presence in Lorca (Murcia) does
not clarify its provenance and it could thus have been
painted for a private individual or a religious institution,
from which it would have been removed during the
Peninsular War or the ecclesiastical confiscations
of the nineteenth century. The first option is in our
opinion more likely, given that Cano had private clients
throughout his career. Finally, the standard dimensions
of the work do not help to clarify whether it was
painted for a specific destination or not.
Fig. 8 / Alonso Cano,
Immaculate Conception,
1655-1656, polychrome
wood, 56 cm high,
Granada Cathedral.
It is thus evident that the painting under discussion here
is a version with variants of the altarpiece in Granada. In
this respect it should be remembered that the cathedral’s
chapter acquired the latter in unknown circumstances
after the painter’s death. There is thus no evidence of
which was painted first. The difference in dimensions
is not a determining factor and no doubt reflects the
wishes of the clients. It seems evident that the second
example responded to a commission which specified that
it should resemble the first – a common requirement in
this period 27 – although a lack of further information at
the present time means that it is impossible to determine
which of the two versions came first. One should also
consider whether these paintings were inspired by the
aforementioned small sculpture by Cano intended for
the lectern, in which case its date would be close to 1656.
For the present author this might be the case, but not
necessarily, given that they are not identical.
During Cano’s first period in Granada – from February
1652 to just before October 1657 – he was accused by
the chapter of working not for the cathedral as he was
obliged to, given his position of prebendary, but instead
for private clients and religious houses.29 In fact, the
artist produced little for the cathedral between 1652
and 1653 and nothing at all in 1654 and 1655. Stating
that he had worked for poor convents “only for what
they wanted to give him by way of charity in order to
sustain himself,” Cano produced a number of paintings
for the Discalced Franciscans of San Antonio and San
Diego. These included an Our Lady of the Immaculate
Conception for one of the side altars on the crossing, and
another located in the ante-choir that subsequently
belonged to the Marqués of Cartagena.30 The parallels
between the latter work and the two under discussion
here are clear, although it is smaller and the Virgin is
looking in the opposite direction. It therefore seems
likely that either the altarpiece from the oratory of
Granada Cathedral or the painting formerly with
Coll & Cortés may be identified with the one from the
lateral chapel in the Franciscan convent, and that the
other was commissioned by a private client who wanted
a copy of the first one. While it is not exactly known
when Cano worked for the convent, it could have been
in 1654-1655 although a later date of 1656-1657 has
also been suggested,31 in which case it would have been
between April 1656 and September 1657. In his abovementioned essay, Álvarez Lopera referred to various
supporters and friends of Cano in Granada, among
them Canon Gerónimo de Prado whom the artist
named as executor in his will. For the present author
this is the cleric portrayed in the painting now in the
museum in Bordeaux, and he would be the principal
candidate for the private client who commissioned one
of the two works.


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