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The Assumption of the Virgin
Carracci, Annibale
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Carracci, Annibale

Bologna, 1560 - Rome, 1609

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The Assumption of the Virgin

Ca. 1587. Oil on canvas.
Room 004

The Assumption of the Virgin is narrated in a late legend, inspired by the Prophet Elias`s vision and by the Ascension of Christ. It was only declared an article of faith in 1950, after centuries during which belief in it was considered a question of personal piety. According to this legend, after her death the Virgin was carried to heaven by angels in the presence of the Apostles. Unlike Christ, Mary ascended with their aid, rather than by her own means, although western artists sometimes eliminated the group of angels. Such is the case with the Assumption, 1516-18, that Titian painted for the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice, which Annibale Carracci closely followed in his different versions of the same subject.

This painting is not mentioned by Annibale`s earliest biographers, but there has been speculation as to the possibility that it was purchased in Italy by the Count of Monterrey when the latter was ambassador to Rome (1628-31) or viceroy to Naples (1631-37). He, in turn, gave it to Philip IV, who then sent it to the monastery of El Escorial, Madrid. It remained there between 1657 and 1839, when it then entered the Museo del Prado.

Hermann Voss considered this painting a reworking of the Assumption now at the Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, which Annibale painted in 1587. Donald Posner later refuted this opinion, describing it instead as an earlier experiment. Compared to the Dresden work, which Daniele Benati considered slightly later in date -at a time when the artist had reached `the more Olympian and serene expressive world of Paolo Veronese`s The Assumption of the Virgin, c.1587, must belong to the moment when Annibale was most influenced by Venetian painting. This is apparent in both the importance of colour and the Corinthian colonnade in the background. Moreover, this canvas`s daring composition would seem to indicate it was an earlier work and, in fact, may represent Annibale`s first idea, which would have been further developed in the more measured work now in Dresden. This does not necessarily mean, however, that this painting should be considered a mere study for the latter. Annibale added touches of naturalism to both works, especially in his characterisation of the Apostles and the Virgin, and this allowed him to depict a miraculous event with almost unprecedented naturalness. At the same time, he accentuated the dramatic aspects of the scene by representing the Ascension in foreshortened profile, rather than from the front, as was then customary. Also, by making Mary the protagonist of her own Ascension, with less dependence on angelic intervention, Annibale emphasised the belief in her future resurrection in body and soul.

According to Clare Robertson, this painting could be a fine example of the sort of commissions that Ludovico, Agostino and Annibale Carracci took on in the late sixteenth century. It would also reveal their interdependence at a moment when, according to Carlo Cesare Malvasia, they accepted commissions for the private chapels of gentlemen who spent the summer in their country villas. The intended locations of such works would explain the frequency of subjects such as the Assumption. At any rate, in this work, Annibale`s compositional advances, use of colour, and representation of his characters` affetti (movements of their souls) through their gestures announces the new direction his painting was to take in the following years (Riello, J.: Italian Masterpieces. From Spain`s Royal Court, Museo del Prado, 2014, p. 98).


Technical data

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Inventory number
Carracci, Annibale
The Assumption of the Virgin
Ca. 1587
Height: 130 cm; Width: 97 cm
Royal Collection (sacristía de El Escorial, 1657; Real Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Madrid, sala del Capítulo Prioral, 1839).

Bibliography +

Ponz, Antonio, Viage de España: en que se da noticia de las cosas mas apreciables, y dignas de saberse, que hay en ella, Atlas, Madrid, 1794; ed. facs. 1972, pp. 80.

Justi, Carl, Diego Velázquez und Sein Jahrhundert, I, Verlag Friedrich Cohen, Bonn, 1922, pp. 225.

Voss, Hermann, Die Malerei des Barock in Rom, Propylaen Verlag, Berlín, 1924, pp. 488, lám. 153.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del S. XVII en España, Universidad Fundación Valdecilla, Madrid, 1965, pp. 134.

Milicua, José, Pintura italiana del s. XVII en el Casón del Buen Retiro, Goya. Revista de Arte, 97, 1970, pp. 7.

Pérez Sánchez, Alfonso E., Pintura italiana del siglo XVII: exposición conmemorativa de, Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia, Dirección Gener, 1970, pp. 134.

Posner, Donald, Annibale Carracci: a study in the reform of italian painting, Phaidon, 1971, pp. 19, lám. 39.

De Andrés, Gregorio, Relación anónima del s.XVII sobre los cuadros del Escorial, ARCHIVO ESPAÑOL DE ARTE, 44, 1971, pp. 58.

Salas, Xavier de, Museo del Prado. Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1972, pp. 124.

Cooney, Patrick J., L'opera completa di Annibale Carracci, Rizzoli, Milán, 1976, pp. 95.

Turner, Nicholas, Italian Baroque Drawings, British Museum, Londres, 1980, pp. 94-95, nº 38.

Burke, Marcus B., Private Collections of Italian Art in Seventeenth Century Spain, University Microfilm International, Nueva York, 1984, pp. 62, lám. 9.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Catálogo de las pinturas, Museo del Prado, Madrid, 1985, pp. 127.

Vicens, Maria Teresa, Iconografia Assumpcionista, Direcció General de Cultura, Valencia, 1986, pp. 89.

The age of Correggio and the Carracci. Emilian painting of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, pp. 275-278.

Brown, Jonathan, Velázquez: pintor y cortesano, Alianza Editorial, Madrid, 1986, pp. 236, lám. 284.

Pepper. D. Stephen, The aftermath of the Correggio/Carracci exhibitions. A new early chronology for the Carracci, Apollo, 125/6, 1987, pp. 409.

Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo del Prado. Inventario general de pinturas (I) La Colección Real, Museo del Prado, Espasa Calpe, Madrid, 1990, pp. 885.

Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon : die bildenden Künstler aller Z, VI, Saur, 1992.

Annibale Carracci, Electa, 2006, pp. 210.

Robertson, Clare, The invention of Annibale Carracci, Silvana, Milán, 2008, pp. 12-14.

Riello, J., Annibale Carracci 'The Assumption of the Virgin' En:, Italian masterpieces from Spain's royal court, Museo del Prado, National Gallery of Victoria Thames & Hudson, 2014, pp. 98.

Other inventories +

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 883.
Caracci (Anibal) / 883. La asuncion de nuestra señora. (E.) / Alto 4 pies, 7 pulg, 8 lin; ancho 3 pies, 5 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 883.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 90.

Exhibitions +

Italian Masterpieces from Spain's Royal Court. Museo Nacional del Prado
16.05.2014 - 31.08.2014

Annibale Carracci
23.01.2007 - 06.05.2007

Annibale Carracci
22.09.2006 - 07.01.2007

The Age of Correggio and the Carracci
Nueva York NY
19.03.1987 - 24.05.1987

The Age of Correggio and the Carracci
Washington DC
18.12.1986 - 15.02.1987

The Age of Correggio and the Carracci
10.09.1986 - 10.11.1986

Location +

Room 004 (On Display)


Displayed objects +


Update date: 11-04-2022 | Registry created on 02-12-2015

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