Friday, September 18, 2009

The Immaculate Conception

Title: The Immaculate Conception

Artist: Diego Velázquez

Medium: Oil on canvas

Size: 135 x 102 cm

Date: 1618-19

Location: National Gallery, London.

The Immaculate Conception is the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of original sin. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts. The dogma says that, from the first moment of her existence, she was preserved by God from the lack of sanctifying grace that afflicts mankind, and that she was instead filled with divine grace. It is further believed by Catholics that she lived a life completely free from sin. Her immaculate conception in the womb of her mother, through sexual intercourse, should not be confused with the doctrine of the virginal conception of her son Jesus, known as the Virgin Birth.

In this depiction painting Mary stands on a crescent moon. Enveloped in mauve satin and blue velvet, hands prayerfully joined, she gazes with pensive beneficence down upon a dark pastoral landscape. Twelve twinkling stars circle around her head, and clouds irradiated by golden light billow behind her. What is striking about this lovely picture, painted when Velázquez was just about 20 years old, is Mary's face. Painted with Vermeerish, almost photographic verisimilitude, this pretty, long-haired, big-eyed girl with the pouty lips and small chin looks uncannily modern, like a teenager you could pass on the street.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez (June 6, 1599 – August 6, 1660) was a Spanish painter who was the leading artist in the court of King Philip IV. Intended for a learned profession, Velázquez received good training in languages and philosophy. But he showed an early gift for art; consequently, he began to study under Francisco de Herrera, a vigorous painter who disregarded the Italian influence of the early Seville school. Velázquez was not prolific; he is only estimated to have produced between 110 and 120 known canvases. Among these paintings, however, are many widely-known and influential works.

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