(Alonso Cano)


(Granada 1601–1661)
6. Inmaculada
c. 1650–1660
Wood, polychromed and gilded
64 cm (25 ¼ in.)
PROVENANCE: Enrique Pelta, Madrid
In 1652, Alonso Cano, a sculptor, painter and architect, returned to his hometown of Granada
after an absence of thirty-six years. With the exception of some temporary trips or visits to cities such as Madrid and Malaga, Alonso Cano was to remain there until his death, and it is during this final stage in his career that he forged the mature style that was to become the inspiration and aestheticmodel for the Granada School.
Alonso Cano’s life may be divided into three important periods that coincide with the different artistic contexts that shaped his personal style. Although originally born in Granada, at the age of fifteen he moved to Seville where his father, Miguel Cano, a joiner and the architect of altarpieces, lived.
After acquiring the technical knowledge for constructing architectural elements in wood in his father’s bottega – alongside Diego Velázquez, who was also working in Miguel’s shop at the time and would later become his son-in-law – Alonso Cano then entered the Seville workshop of Francisco Pacheco to learn the art of painting. He remained in Seville for twenty-one years, and in consequence his development evolved in close proximity to Velázquez, Zurbarán, Martínez Montañés, Juan de Mesa, Luis Ortíz de Vargas, José de Arce and Felipe de Ribas. Cano learned the three arts (architecture, painting and sculpture) and at the age of twenty-four took the exams required to open a workshop. His pictorial style rapidly evolved from an early Sevillian aesthetic style, which is visible in his San Francisco de Borja, signed and dated 1624 (Seville, Museo de Bellas Artes), to his first personal autograph works, such as the paintings that originally formed the large San Juan Evangelista altarpiece in the Monastery of Saint Paula in Seville (1635–1637, now in Paris, Louvre; London, Wallace Collection; Sarasota, Ringling Museum; and Mexico City, Museo de San Carlos).
With regard to his training as a sculptor, Alonso Cano has traditionally been associated with Juan Martinez Montañés, although, as yet, it has not been possible to document his relationship to any specific artist during this period. The style of his early works, such as the sculptures for the main altarpiece of the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Oliva, Lebrija (Seville), made between 1629 and 1633, reflect the influence of Martínez Montañés, while nevertheless retaining Cano’s own creative personality.

Moreover, Cano’s style provides more expressive formal characteristics, and depicts a greater vibrancy in the treatment of the textiles, and these two stylistic traits point towards a relationship with Juan de Mesa, Martínez Montañés’ greatest follower. Due to his premature death, Mesa’s full potential must remain speculation. Nevertheless, in his brief career, he demonstrated a fully realized artistic style, which, in its capacity to express a heightened sense of realism, surpassed even that of his master.
Alonso Cano’s sculptures from this period include the Santa Teresa (Seville, Convent of Buen Suceso – Padres Carmelitas); San Pedro, San Pablo and the Virgen de la Oliva (Lebrija, the Church of Nuestra Señora de la Oliva); the seated San Juan Evangelista (Valladollid, Museo Nacional de Escultura); and the Inmaculada from the main altar in the parish church of La Campana (Seville). Cano was equally able
to demonstrate his ability in producing monumental sculptures of great quality (San Pedro and San Pablo), as well as smaller works, such as the aforementioned Inmaculada. His technique employed an expressive use of foreshortening, seen particularly in seated figures, such as San Juan Evangelista and the Santiago, formerly from the old altarpiece of the parish church of San Juan de la Palma in Seville (Valladolid, Museo Nacional de Escultura).1
The new (or, at least, largely restored) polychromy of the Inmaculada in the parish church of La Campana (Fig. 1) outside Seville prevents any real appreciation of the work’s original quality, with the result that when it was included in a recent exhibition, the work met with mixed criticism.2 This smaller scale work (58 centimetres) remains in situ, placed in the niche for which it was carved, above the tabernacle in an altarpiece that was also designed by Alonso Cano.
Alonso Cano’s slow progress in the execution of this commission (apparently stalled due to lack of church funding) is well documented and the work apparently stretched over several years.
This delay was in no way due to any dilatoriness on Cano’s part, nor on the part of Miguel Cano and the brothers Felipe and Francisco Dionisio de Ribas, who also worked on the project. Work began in 1629 and three years later Cano had delivered the tabernacle and the small Inmaculada. By 1638 when Cano had left for Madrid, he had only begun work on the first upper level of the retablo. In this first phase of the altarpiece, one may see that Alonso Cano  has already begun to distance himself from the Sevillian prototypes of his youth, and, instead, he appears to be either working towards a wholly new style, or one influenced by Martínez Montañés.
The La Campana Virgin stands holding her hands slightly separated in a gesture that lacks the drama usually expected in the standard iconography for an Asunción, but still communicates the Virgin’s arrested, almost expectant attitude and attracts the viewer’s attention. Her white tunic with gilded and floral decoration covers her feet, which rest on top of three seraphim, of which the wings of the central seraph extend straight forward, exactly as those in the
present Inmaculada exhibited here, which is a fully autograph work by Cano. The Virgin’s traditional blue mantle, lined in red with elaborate estofado decoration on the
outside, is fastened at the base of the throat with a clasp. The arrangement of the mantle folds, which model the elegant flexion of the right leg, lends the whole figure a sense of grace and movement. The Virgin stands delicately upon an up-ended crescent moon, a universal symbol of the Inmaculada apocalíptica. Alonso Cano sculpted another Inmaculada, which is similar in scale, pose and iconography, for the Church of San Miguel of Olmedo (Valladolid). However, it is not known if he made this work in Seville or during his stay in Madrid.3
During the fifteen years he lived in Madrid, Cano worked mainly as a painter for patrons close to the royal court, including the Conde Duque de Olivares. It is also possible that during this period Alonso Cano was employed as art master to Prince Baltasar Carlos. In addition, he painted portraits, religious and profane subjects which were commissioned by the aristocracy and the clergy. Alonso Cano made relatively few sculptures during his life, this third and final stage of his career appearing comparatively the least prolific. One work, documented to this period, is the statue of Cristo crucificado (currently in the local Navarra town of Lecaroz), which he made as a royal commission during his Madrid period.4
In 1652, upon his return to Granada, Alonso Cano embarked on his the third and final period. Here, he received royal assistance by being appointed racionero of the cathedral, a sort of honorary canon, who, while having full access to the cathedral and its works, was exempted from any ecclesiastical duties. Although the ecclesiastical council had not supported this appointment, they were forced to accept it upon Alonso Cano’s commission to paint the series of the Virgin in the Presbytery. He began the series and continued his supervision of
the design and execution of all artworks for the exterior and interior of the cathedral: the architecture (facade), furnishings (wooden, bronze and marbles), functional–decorative pieces (silver lamps), and cult images (Inmaculada, Virgen del Belén, Adán y Eva). He also worked for the city’s convents and had important pupils and followers, such as Pedro de Mena and José de Mora (sculpture); Pedro Atanasio Bocanegra and Juan de Sevilla (painting); and
Francisco Granandos de la Barrera (architecture). Alonso Cano’s innovation
in composition and iconography provided models that inspired future generations of artists and established the distinctive character of artistic production in Granada.
During his late period Alonso Cano executed his Inmaculada in the Sacristy of Granada Cathedral (Fig. 2), a work which is often considered the most repeated and reinterpreted sculptural image in Spanish art history. Its qualities as an individual work of art, the aesthetic
innovation, the refinement of execution were both recognized and highly lauded by the artist’s contemporaries during his lifetime. The Granada Cathedral council had
commissioned from Alonso Cano a lectern for the choir (1655–1656), which the artist personally designed, as well as overseeing its construction in wood, bronze and coloured marbles. He then carved an Inmaculada (55 centimetres), which was polychromed and installed in the vaulted niche of the tabernacle in one of the chapels. Since 1614, the Inmaculista movement had gathered strength, starting in Cordoba and Seville and spreading throughout Spanish cities, until 1654, when Phillip IV took a public oath swearing and defending the cult of the
Purity and Clean Conception of the Virgin Mary, effectively mandating the image of the Virgin immaculate in the visual canon of the church. Alonso Cano’s beautiful and elegant example for the cathedral, with its modest scale and high quality of execution was so praised by the
canons that they agreed to place the image in the major sacristy, so that they could see it every morning, rather than on the lectern where the view for its contemplation might be impeded. This sculpture would originally have had a clear white tunic and mantle painted celestial blue,
possibly with estofado decoration. However, due to later restoration, the tunic is now a clear greenish white and the mantle an intense blue. This work became the archetypal model for the subject and inspired successive sculptors in much the same way that manuscript and fresco representations of The Life of the Virgin had provided models for painters. Subsequently Pedro de Mena carved two Inmaculadas. One was a life-size composition made for the town of Alhendín (1656), in which the Virgin stands upon a cloud formation with angels fluttering at her feet (Fig. 3). Her mantle hangs open at the front and is gathered on her arms at both sides. The second version, which belongs to the Granada archdiocese and is signed and dated 1658, reflects the influence of the Cano prototype: the oval-shaped face with its pensive expression (the features however retaining a slightly greater realism), the figure of Mary, enveloped in her mantle, with the ends gathered over her right arm; the silhouette with its distinctive ‘spindle’ shape; the celestial blue of the mantle, decorated with estofado; and the base formed of clouds and seraphim. In addition to these recognized features, Mena incorporated a terrestrial globe, a dragon and flying angels.5 In his later Inmaculadas, made in the Malaga workshop, Mena rid himself of Cano’s influence and pursued a more personal style. The sculptor Juan de Molla
also sculpted Inmaculadas based on the Cano Virgin, with the addition of some personalized details.
The quality of Alonso Cano’s Granada Cathedral Inmaculada (Fig. 2) has been so highly rated as an outstanding and singular artwork that historians have been reluctant to attribute further examples to the artist, or to accept that the artist could have made other versions, either before or afterwards. Two sculptures, which share similar dimensions however, may claim to be
autograph works by Alonso Cano: one is the example preserved in the San Isabel Convent of Marchena6 (Figs. 4a, b); the other is the present work. Both of these sculptures retain the aforementioned compositional elements described in the Cano Granada image and also
present a similar approach to modelling the mantle, just as in the example in the cathedral. All possess the identical sense of peculiar movement and soft, undulating, complex drapery forms, devoid of hard folds, this latter trait being something that Mena, for instance,
later tended to simplify.
The elements that differentiate these latter two sculptures from the one that in the past had been considered to be Alonso Cano’s sole work are the faces, which appear marginally more stylized, whereas the head of Mena’s 1658 Virgin reflects the direct influence of Cano’s Granada
Cathedral image in its realism. A comparison may be made with the eyes, and in the way of delineating the drapery fringe with its characteristic undulation and somewhat angular shape, as well as with the hair parting at the sides. Yet in these two Inmaculadas the oval shape of the face is accentuated, the eyebrows are narrower and the eyes more ‘oriental’. These features are a far remove from those in works by both Mena7 and Mora, and in fact closely resemble the more refined and idealized aesthetics of Cano’s mature works, including the Virgen del Belén (Granada Cathedral; Fig. 5) and the two versions of San Antonio de Padua (Murcia, Church of San Nicolás; Granada, Museo Gómez Moreno; Fig. 6).
The present Inmaculada possesses two distinguishing marks: the singularity of having blue eyes (a typical characteristic almost exclusively present in autograph works by Cano) and the distinctive Seraphim in the clouds at the Virgin’s feet. These again possess theoutstretched wings that should be compared to those in the Virgen de la Campana (Seville) that Cano carved in 1632. On account of the very high artistic quality and formal and aesthetic aspects the writer does not believe this sculpture to be either a workshop repetition or even by a disciple, but, instead, to be a fully finished autograph work, representative of the master’s own evolution in style, as his later works can attest.

1 H. E. WETHEY, Alonso Cano. Pintor, escultor y arquitecto,
Madrid 1983, pp 23–27 and pp. 37–47.
2 A. MARÍN FIDALGO, ‘Alonso Cano, Inmaculada’, in Sevilla
en el siglo XVII, exhibition catalogue, Seville 1983, pp.
172–173. See also, J. L. ROMERO TORRES and A. TORREJÓN
DÍAZ, ‘Alonso Cano, Inmaculada’, in Alonso Cano –
Espiritualidad y modernidad artística, exhibition catalogue,
Consejería de Cultura de la Junta de Andalucía, Granada
2001, pp. 438–439; and J. L. ROMERO TORRES, ‘Alonso Cano
en el contexto de la escultura sevillana (1634–1638)’, in
Actas del Simposio Internacional Alonso Cano y su época,
Universidad y Junta de Andalucía, Granada 2002, pp.
3 J. C. BRASAS EGIDO, ‘Antiguo partido judicial de Olmedo’,
in Catálogo de la Provincia de Valladolid, Valladolid 1977,
p. 165. See also L. LUNA MORENO, ‘Inmaculada’, in La
escultura en Andalucía, Siglos XV al XVIII, exhibition
catalogue, Valladolid 1984, pp. 114–117.
4 It was begun in 1650 and made for the Benedict
Monastery of Montserrat in Madrid and completed
1657–1660. See Alonso Cano y Escaltura Andalusa, Caja
Sur, Cordoba 2000, p. 48.
5 L. GILA MEDINA, Pedro de Mena, escultor 1628–1688,
Arcos Libros, Madrid 2007, pp. 85–92.
6 A. J. MORALES ET AL., Guía artística de Sevilla y su
provincia, Seville 1981, p. 464, fig. 468.
7 GILA MEDINA, Pedro de Mena cit., p. 92. Here, we must
respectfully disagree with our friend Lazáro in considering
the image by Marchena to be a copy made by Pedro de

64 cm (25 ¼ in.)
Historical Period
Baroque - 1600-1720
Religious: New Testament
Price band
$750,000 - $1,000,000