(Sarriá, Lugo, c. 1576 – Valladolid, 1636)


Virgin of the Immaculate Conception

Ca. 1617-1636

Polychrome wood

24 inches (61 cm) high; 12 ½ inches (31.5 cm wide)
Base: 6 ¼ inches (16 cm) high
Overall height: 30 ¼ inches (77 cm)


Private Collection, Madrid

This beautiful figure of the Virgin in small format and of remarkable quality is placed on a half-moon within a throne of clouds, the symbol par excellence of the Immaculate Virgin.  Three cherub heads appear between the clouds and the moon, as a symbol of the divine grace that assists her.  The work presents a symmetrical composition scheme, frontal orientation and delicately executed carving in the round. Mary is standing in a position of prayer with her hands humbly joined in front of her chest.  Following the iconographical precepts of the period, she is depicted with the features of an adolescent, of youthful face and looking downward in an attitude of serene and calm concentration.  Her head is rounded and the neck has a cylindrical aspect, her long hair falling symmetrically over her shoulders and back.  She wears a tunic and an ample cape that describes a trapezoid shape. The carving of the folds and pleats, shaped as deep and marked creases, stand out, particularly noteworthy on the ends and the back of the cape and tunic, where it is fastened with a pin at the height of her waist, just as was fashionable among fashionable women of the time. Also notable is the attention paid to the polychromy of the fabrics.

The design and composition of the present work precisely correspond to the prototypes created by the great sculptor Gregorio Fernández, to whom this work must be attributed given its notable quality.  These models were also widely followed and repeated by his followers, like Luis Fernández de la Vega, of whom a couple of similar examples are known. 

As was previously indicated, it is a personal typology created by Fernández that had wide influence in later years.   Fernández himself executed a large number of carvings through his career, very similar to each another and with slight iconographical variations, mostly with the inclusion of the figure of a dragon on the base-- a symbol of sin, temptation and envy-- signifying the triumph over the original sin, which the Immaculate redeems. 

Otherwise, the type exhibits no other variations other than that indicated by the sculptor’s changing style across his career.  As mentioned, a good number of examples are known, which provide good comparison to the work introduced and studied here.  In addition to the aforementioned formal and compositional features, all of them exhibit excellent polychromy that reaches even the hardly visible areas like the reverse of fabrics and the interior of the capes, which sometimes appear ornamented with false precious stones and detachable fabric, enhancing the richness of the polychromy.

Some of these works were produced for altarpieces, conceived as part of a broader iconographical plan but most were made as free-standing sculptures, both in life-size or smaller format, like the one studied here.  It is documented that the first life-size a Virgin Immaculate in life-size carved by him – and the first of the series that he would later execute- is the one from the convent of Saint Francis in Valladolid (1617) whose whereabouts are unfortunately unknown today, or perhaps it has been destroyed.  There are records of its conservation at least until 1855.  The Immaculada from the convent of Nuestra Señora de Abrojo (Our Lady of Abrojo) from ca. 1617 is not preserved either.  Joining both models, Fernández executed the Immaculate Virgin  for the church of the Vera Cruz of Salamanca in 1620, as well as the one in the convent of the Encarnación in Madrid from ca. 1620.

In 1626 the bishopric of Astorga decided to take the vows of the Immaculate Virgin, which is why they commissioned a model from Fernández which is in the cathedral and perfectly preserved, including the polychromy work.  The one at the church of San Marcelo in León is not documented, but it is a work of high quality and datable towards 1620-1630.  Among the later ones, one could mention the Virgin Immaculate from the church of Saint Eulalia in Paredes de Nava (Palencia), from ca. 1626-1630; the one from the convent of the Immaculate Conception in Zamora (ca. 1629-1630); the convent of Carmen Extramuros in Valladolid (ca. 1632); the one in the convent of Saint Claire in Valladolid; or the one from the Corpus Christi college in Valencia, datable towards1631-1636, donated in 1639 by the counts of Castro.  Another example of small size but great quality is located in the convent of the Franciscan Discalced in Monforte de Lemos. 

To the long list of known examples, one can also add other Immaculadas that have been known or attributed in the last few years, as well as documentary news of the existence of figures of the Immaculate Virgin by Fernández that have not been located or that have been lost in indefinite dates; among them, a small Immaculada from the Clarisses nuns in Palencia.  There is another example preserved with the Conceptionists in Zamora which absolute autograph attribution is in discussion, as well as another one in Puerto de Béjar.  To these, one could add the one that is in a private collection in Seville or the one in the church parish of Cestona in Guipúzcoa.  Among the ones mentioned in the documentation, it is worth mentioning the one documented in 1644 in the will of Alberta de Eguiluz Barrasa y Cárcamo, noblewoman from Salinas de Araña, married to the Leonese Simón Rodríguez de Lorenzada, butler of the admiral of Castille.  Also, the one listed among the objects of Felipa Martínez de Medrano, widow of Clemente de Torres, secretary of His Majesty and second officer of the Secretary of War, who contributed with it as dowry when she got married in Madrid. 

Just like the mentioned examples, the work studied here presents a careful polychromy in very good condition.  The estofados with rich and varied floral motifs on the white tunic stand out, as well as their richness on the trimmings of the cape, imitating jewels or precious stones.  The different motifs are executed using diverse techniques, mostly engraving and scratching with the tip of the brush.  Very similar to the aforementioned works are not only the typology, attitude and disposition but also the face and the typical folds in the lower part of the fabrics, with their creased, angled and metallic aspect.


Álvaro Pascual Chenel

(Click on figures below for larger view)