JUAN SIMÓN GUTIÉRREZ
(Medina-Sidonia 1643 – 1718 Seville)
The Child Virgin Spinning
(La Virgen niña hilando)
Oil on canvas
30 ¼ x 22 ¾ inches
(76.8 x 57.7 cm)
Edward Samuel Moss, Esq.: his estate sale, Christie’s, London, March 28, 1952, lot 11 (as Cano: Portrait of a Child, in richly embroidered gown and red dress, seated by a table: Angels heads above; sold for £45 gns to D. Koester
Private Collection, Florida (as by Zurbaran) until 2015
Dr. Enrique Valdivieso has written of our painting (April 2017):
This beautiful image of the Virgin Child spinning is one of the most suggestive representations created by the religious culture of the city of Seville in the Baroque period, at a time of increased devotion to the cult of the Holy Childhood, expressed through painting and sculpture.
The technical characteristics of this work fully conincide with the style of Juan Simón Gutiérrez (1634-1718), who was one of the most faithful followers of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, and who continued the creative spirit of the master through the second decade of the eigheenth century. The great quality shown by most of the works of Juan Simón Gutiérrez has in the past caused many of his paintings to be attributed to Murillo himself, but at present we can avoid this situation thanks to our knowledge of the characteristics of drawing and coloring of his disciple. Gutierrez maintained the expressive kindness, the beauty, the sweetness and the grace that Murillo created, although he translated it in a special and personal way into his own language.
The iconography of this Virgin Child Spinning was frequently repeated in Seville during the last years of the 17th century, and the best versions of this theme were made by Juan Simón Gutiérrez. It is important to point out that the subject of this work goes beyond the depiction of the tender and charming presence of the Child Virgin, and illustrates a theme from the Apocryphal Gospels, specifically the Protoevangelium of James, where it is said that the Priests of the Temple of Jerusalem asked the Virgin Child, who was educated spiritually there, to make a veil for the Temple, which she executed by first winding the wool and later weaving it. This veil would be the one that later was torn at the moment when Christ died on the cross – confirming the premonition by the Virgin of the future death of her son.
This subject of the Child Virgin Spinning was often paired with representations of the Child Jesus wounding in one of its fingers on a crown of thorns, similarly evoking the Passion.
The present painting appears to be the earliest and most elaborate depiction of the Child Virgin Spinning theme. A smaller and less expansive version by Gutierrez is in the Museo del Prado (see below). That work shows the Virgin in in a simpler dress, without the table holding the book, bowl, and flowers, and lacking the accoutrements of her sewing basket below. Our image appears to be the progenitor of the many examples of this popular image, both in Spain and in the New World.