Hi guys! On December 8th, there will be a feast day based on the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This is the belief that Mary was conceived without sin. Though this is not every churches belief, it is one of the most important feasts of the Roman Catholic Church.
In the Art History courses I have had so far, I have seen at least a few in each that go over this subject matter since it is a large topic.
One painting that I have found that goes over this subject matter is Mary’s Holy and Immaculate Conception by Francisco Rizi, created in the 17th century.
Based on the Museo del Prado description of this piece, Rizi shows the Virgin as the “Woman of the Apocalypse.” Mary is walking on a globe wearing a twelve star crown. She is surrounded by angels and a multitude of flowers. On the sides, there are the gates of Heaven and Jacob’s ladder, a ladder that appeared to Jacob that reached Heaven. Included in this is also a morning star and a rainbow.
Overall, this painting has some hazy qualities to it but the haziness works with the subject matter.
Another one I found was by Piero di Cosimo called the Immaculate Conception with Saints, created between 1485 – 1505.
This piece is currently in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was originally in the Tebaldi Chapel of the Annunziata of Florence, but it was moved in 1804. This painting seems to be honoring Mary and the role she played in the coming of Christ. Here Mary is in the middle, the center focal point. Above her is a dove, most likely a representation of the Holy Spirit. On the left are the Saints John the Evangelist, Philip Benizi, and Catherine (kneeling). On the right are the Saints Peter, Antoninus, and Margaret (kneeling). Piero has brilliantly included the scenes of the Adoration of the Magi, Annunciation to the Shepherds (on left), and Flight to Egypt (right) in the background. This foreshadowing the events that were to happen, the first being her Immaculate Conception.
Another image I found was by Giorgio Vasari called An Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, created in 1540.
Just to include some background information, Vasari was an artist and an Art Historian. He wrote extensive works on artists during the Renaissance time period. Much of it is bias, but it’s nicely written and it gives us a glimpse into that time period. Also, he had access to a lot of the paintings of the time so his books include significant detail on those art pieces.
Here Vasari included an allegory of the Immaculate Conception. This was originally created for the Altoviti chapel in SS Apostoli, Florence. The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology nicely explains that “the Virgin Mary is shown as an agent of Salvation, triumphing over Satan and sinfulness represented by Eve, according to the Latin inscriptions carried by angels” (artuk.org). Adam and Eve are bound to the Knowledge of the Tree which is a serpent like figure under Mary. Interestingly enough, the Old Testament prophets are also bound to the Tree because they are in a kind of Hell-like place before the coming of Christ (since everyone went to Hell before Christ because there was no salvation). It also says that John the Baptist is somewhere telling the coming of Christ, but I cannot find him here (maybe you guys might find him!)
The last one I found was by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo called the Immaculate Conception, created between 1767-1768.
This painting was one of the seven altarpieces commissioned in 1767 for a new church of the time, San Pascual Bailón at Aranjuez. These altarpieces were to represent the most important “devotional practices of the Franciscan Order: devotion to the Eucharist, to the Christ Child and to the purity of the Virgin Mary.” Tiepolo’s work was placed to the left of the High altar. Here Mary steps on a serpent, which references the fall of Adam and Eve. Mary shows that she will fix, through Christ, what happened with the damnation of the world. On the Museo del Prado site, it says that “the shimmering profile of an obelisk shape in the background is a further reference to traditional symbols associated with the Immaculate Conception, the Tower of David and the Tower of Ivory, with their evocations of impregnability, virginity and purity” (museodelprado.es).
Feature Image from wordonfire.org