Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
December 8th, 2013Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (Seville. 1617 –1682), Immaculate Conception, circa 1680. Oil on canvas, 195 x 145 cm. Saint Petersburg, Hermitage Museum
A theme so dear to the Spanish painter that during his life he painted at least 20 canvases representing the Virgin in the heavens, among flights of angels, often with the moon under her feet and a crown of stars, two of which paintings are in the Hermitage.
The version we have chosen is, perhaps, among those which best reflect the intimate and daily tone of Murillo’s painting. Mary hasn’t her hands joined or crossed, there isn’t the moon, nor do even the stars appear around her head. She is represented as a young woman, perhaps it is better to say as a teenager, who is walking wistfully forward, looking up; her right hand seems to accompany her gaze turned towards the vision of God.
The multitude of putti (little angels) that surrounds the Virgin, even if seeming corporeal, are instead in the picture, to witness the scene which is set far from the earth, among the clouds of the heavens.
What is also remarkable is the foreshortening chosen by the painter. If we look at the painting we realize the understanding of the moment in which the painter has fixed the movement of the Virgin can be twofold: in fact, on one side it seems that Maria, supported and as if pushed by the angels that surround her, is going up towards God, on the other side it might appear that she is going down a ladder which we cannot see because it is covered by clouds and the same angels.
Mary who goes up, then, elevated by God to the beatitude of His Kingdom, model and firstling of the future glory which waits for every Christian. Mary who descends, sent by God among men, advocate and help of the Christians, one of her “titles” , as declared when she is prayed to in the Litanies.
Let us take as our own, the words of an old hymn:
Thou art all fair, O Mary,
And the original sin is not in thee.
Thou are the glory of Jerusalem.
Thou, the joy of Israel.
Thou art the honour of our people.
Thou art the advocate of sinners.
O Mary! O Mary!
Virgin most prudent,
Mother most tender
Pray for us; intercede for us to Jesus Christ our Lord.”