Francisco de Zurbarán, Spanish, 1598-1664
Title: The Immaculate Conception
Date: early 1660s
Medium: Oil on canvas
166 x 108 cm
Signed: lower left (indistinctly)
Credit Line: Purchased, 1886
Object Number: NGI.273
DescriptionToday we are aware of 13 versions of this popular theme by Zurbarán, of which this is one of the most intimate and attractive. The Virgin is standing on a full moon, while small cherubs emerge from her garments. Beneath, displayed in a landscape, are symbols associated with her, such as the palm, temple, walled garden, well and cypress. The two male allegorical figures are Faith (blindfolded) and Hope (with an anchor). With the Virgin representing Christian Charity, together they symbolise the three theological virtues.
Like many other artists born in Estremadura, Zurbarán went to Andalusia for his education. At the age of 15 he entered the Seville workshop of Pedro Diaz de Villanueva, a painter about whom very little is known. It was probably soon after this that he became acquainted with Francisco Pacheco, and above all with Velázquez, who became a lifelong friend. Zurbarán worked for several years in Llerena, returning to Seville in 1629, where he produced some of his best paintings, many of which were destined for the New World. In his final years, Murillo’s growing success in Seville induced Zurbarán to seek the favour of collectors in Madrid, and it is there that he likely painted this Immaculate Conception, whose richness and luminosity is very different from his early style.

March 2016

ProvenancePossibly from Valladolid; Captain Larkyns, 1872; purchased, Christie's, London, 10 April 1886, W. Graham sale, lot 408
Exhibition HistoryEl Greco to Goya, The Taste for Spanish Paintings in Britain and Ireland, The National Gallery, London, 16 September - 29 November 1981

Master European Paintings from the National Gallery of Ireland, The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 6 June - 9 August 1992; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 19 September - 6 December 1992; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 13 January - 28 March 1993; IBM Gallery, New York, 27 April - 26 June 1993
Label TextConceived without original sin, the Virgin stands on a full moon with small cherubs emerging from her garments. Below her are a range of symbols usually associated with the Virgin, including a palm, a temple, a walled garden, a well and a cypress tree. The two allegorical ?gures in the bottom corners are Faith (blindfolded) and Hope (with an anchor). Together with the Virgin, who represents Charity, they symbolise the three theological virtues. This painting probably dates from Zurbarán’s late career, when Murillo had eclipsed him as Seville’s leading painter. This powerful work suggests that Zurbarán had not lost his creative powers, however.

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