Colnaghi Foundation Journal 01 - Page 84

ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Fig. 9 / Alonso Cano,
Immaculate Conception
(detail, with the entire
painting shown on p. 76),
ca. 1665-1666, oil on
canvas, 212.5 x 172.5 cm,
Antwerp, Koninklijk
Museum voor Schone
Kunsten (on loan from
a Private Collection).
ALONSO CANO / Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
Nonetheless, it should not be ruled out that Cano
could have painted both examples during his final
period in Granada, which ran from July 1660
until his death in September 1667, with periods in
Malaga in October 1661 and from 1665 to 1666.
This hypothesis seems less probable given his known
activity and the works’ formal characteristics.
However, it is noteworthy that on 8 December
1661, Pope Alexander VII dictated the apostolic
constitution Sollicitudo omnium Ecclesiarum in which he
recognized the belief maintained by Christians since
Antiquity that Mary, “from the first moment of her
creation and infusion in the body was by a special
grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits
of Jesus Christ, her Son, Redeemer of the human
race, preserved immune from the stain of original
sin,” thereby banning the teaching of the opposing
doctrine and promoting the cult and celebration of
this mystery. This papal constitution was met with
enthusiasm similar to the one of 1617 and influenced
the commissioning of images on the subject of the
Conception, which may account for the production
of these two paintings.
In relation to Pacheco’s paintings of 1619 and 1621
Mary’s gaze is lowered and the hands clasped to the
right, while the face is less elongated and more beautiful.
Cano’s figure is carefully proportioned to allow for a
tall, slim body, although the arrangement of the arms
and the mantle, passing over the left arm and under the
right, serves to widen the body above the waist, creating
an elliptical form that narrows towards the head and
feet. The contrasting rhythm of the slightly turned face
(the head remains upright) and of the hands on the
opposite side introduces a balanced dynamism. This is
reinforced by the complex play of the drapery as the
mantle falls down vertically on the right, curving out
from the hands and down to its opposite tip at the feet,
and with an opposing line, from right to left, at the waist.
This rich formal structure is enhanced by the cherubim
facing opposite directions that form the figure’s base,
and the daring foreshortening of the child angels,
arranged in different curving lines continued in the
flowers and plants they are holding. The curves of the
three circles – the stars around the head, the large sun
and the moon at Mary’s feet – reinforce the dynamism
and majestic equilibrium of the Virgin’s figure.
The rediscovered canvas has some iconographic
elements that, as with other earlier examples, derive
from the recommendations of Cano’s master,
Pacheco. In addition to the Virgin’s youth, the
beauty of her facial features, pink cheeks and loose
flowing hair (which has a redder tinge than the
recommended golden one and falls over her right
shoulder), other notable elements include the white
tunic and traditional blue mantle; the circular rather
than oval sun in a golden ochre tone; and the twelve
stars outside the pale circle are located over the rays
which are rigid and relatively undefined. There is
no crown but the moon is present as a transparent
sphere without the downward-facing tips being visible.
Also absent are God the Father, the Holy Spirit and
attributes of the Earth, but three cherubim function
as the base for the figure while two pairs of full-length
child angels occupy the lower sides. These angels
hold attributes of biblical origin, as was noted by
Valdivieso. From the left, the roses: “and as a rose
planted in Jericho” (Ecclesiasticus 24, 14); white
narcissi and irises or purple anemones: “I am the
narcissus of Sharon, the lily of the valleys” (Song of
Songs 2:1); and a palm: “I was exalted like a palm tree
in En-gaddi” (Ecclesiasticus 24:14). These attributes
are the same ones held by the small angels in the
version in the oratory, albeit in a different order.
Through the spectacular harmony of the forms and
the powerful beauty of a woman who was human but
whose beauty symbolises her pure conception Alonso
Cano succeeded in creating a masterpiece.


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