Immaculate Conception - Artistic Representations

Artistic Representations

The 1476 extension of the feast of the Immaculate Conception to the entire Latin Church reduced the likelihood of controversy for the artist or patron in depicting an image, so that emblems depicting The Immaculate Conception began to appear.

Many artists in the 15th century faced the problem of how to depict an abstract idea such as the Immaculate Conception, and the problem was not fully solved for 150 years. The Italian Renaissance artist Piero di Cosimo was among those artists who tried new solutions, but none of these became generally adopted so that the subject matter would be immediately recognisable to the faithful.

The definitive iconography for the Immaculate Conception, drawing on the emblem tradition, seems to have been finally established by the master and then father-in-law of Diego Velázquez, the painter and theorist Francisco Pacheco. Pacheco's iconography influenced other Spanish artists such as Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbarán, who each produced a number of artistic masterpieces based on the use of these same symbols.

The popularity of this particular representation of The Immaculate Conception spread across the rest of Europe, and has since remained the best known artistic depiction of the concept: in a heavenly realm, moments after her creation, the spirit of Mary (in the form of a young woman) looks up in awe at (or bows her head to) God. The moon is under her feet and a halo of twelve stars surround her head, possibly a reference to "a woman clothed with the sun" from Revelation 12:1-2. Additional imagery may include clouds, a golden light, and cherubs. In some paintings the cherubim are holding lilies and roses, flowers often associated with Mary.

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