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The Virgin and Child
Cano, Alonso
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Cano, Alonso

Granada, 1601 - Granada, 1667

Cano, Alonso See author's file

The Virgin and Child

1645 - 1652. Oil on canvas. On display elsewhere

Technical studies carried out at the Museo del Prado confirm Alonso Cano as the author of this Virgin of the Star, which belongs to the Museo del Prado but has been on loan to the Museo del Bellas Artes de Granada since 1958. Cano’s hand in this work had been questioned by the maximum authority on this artist, hispanist Harold E. Wethey. In his exhaustive monograph from 1955, Wethey considered it a version of the Virgin and Child at the Museo del Prado (P627), "a study version, and a workshop piece in which Cano’s original has been reproduced in a mechanical way". Its lesser aesthetic quality, more austere and almost arid conception, and what was then its poor state of conservation—it improved substantially with the restoration carried out in 1991—help explain such a negative view.

In this sense, the inevitable comparison of this Virgin of the Star with the canvas at the Museo del Prado—undoubtedly one of Cano’s masterpieces—has kept the work in Granada from being understood as an independent piece with its own values. It has therefore been considered a workshop piece, of secondary importance in the artist’s overall oeuvre. However, technical analysis and a stylistic comparison of the two works indicate that both are by Cano’s own hand.

The analysis of his preparations suggest that they were painted in Madrid, and X-ray studies indicated that the Virgin and Child (P627) was painted after the Virgin of the Star, and actually based on its composition. The two works base their harmonious compositions on Raphael, while their technique recalls Venetian school—specifically Titian. Both compositions, and especially the figure of the Virgin, are taken from a 1520 print by Albrecht Dürer, as was first pointed out by Gómez-Moreno. That engraving’s rigidity and nearly abstract power—Panofsky spoke of its schematization of organic forms that recall the polyhedron of Melancholy I—is neutralized in Cano’s painting. By widening the landscape he gives the figures a more relaxed appearance. Moreover, the Virgin’s relationship with her Child is rendered more intimate through their physical and visual contact.

The scene of the Virgin seated in a landscape with the Christ Child in her arms is associated with the Bible story of the flight to Egypt. That would explain the wicker basket in the version at the Museo del Prado, and the rectangular object–a piece of luggage, or possibly a rock—on which Mary sits in both Dürer’s print and both paintings. Cano eliminates the cushion appearing in the print, and he also makes more important changes. His depiction of the Christ Child unclothed reveals his scant sensitivity to the indignation that nude images of sacred figures—even infants—produced among counter-reformation theorists from Molanus to Pacheco.

The most perceptible differences between the two paintings are in the landscapes, which nonetheless share a similar topography. The Virgin of the Star has traditionally been considered a diurnal scene, with a bluish-gray sky whose loose rendering brings Velázquez to mind. The different lighting of the two scenes also leads to an uneven integration of the figures in the landscape. Thus, while the daylight brings out the volume of the Virgin and Child in the Granada painting, generating a certain sense of sculptural isolation; the darkness that envelops the figures in the version at the Museo del Prado more fully integrates them into the background. Still, both canvases have exquisitely constructed flesh tones and relaxed brushstrokes that barely define the anatomy of hands and feet, as well as a comparatively free treatment of the Virgin’s tresses.

The artist renders the folds of her tunic with a gradation of tonalities from white to red, alternating the use of subtle glazes for the shadowed areas and dense impastos for the more brightly lit ones in order to generate a strong sense of volume. Some details particularly reveal the high pictorial quality of the Virgin of the Star, relating it to Cano’s finest works. The X-ray of the Virgin of the Star shows that its initial compositional plan coincides with the visible image, with no drastic changes, although some modifications have been made on the surface. The Virgin’s head has been made smaller and her right ear has been partially hidden behind her hair. And the Christ Child’s left arm has been filled out. The modeling of the clothes, defined by the play of contrasting lights and deep shadows, coincides with what appears to the naked eye. Therefore, the X-ray allows us to affirm that the painting is the result of studious, predetermined work that was not substantially modified during the making of the piece.

Based on the information obtained throughvisual analysis of the works, x-rays and reflectography, we can conclude that the creative process of the paintings from Granada and Madrid coincide in a series of ways that indicate they were made by the same artist. Given the period attribution to the prebendary of Granada, the clear stylistic similarities and the technique employed coincide with that of other undisputed works by his hand that have been studied. This work thus confirms that both paintings are by Alonso Cano. Moreover, the underlying compositional changes in the highest-quality version—the Virgin with the Christ Child (P672)—indicate that the Virgin of the Star may have been painted first and then used as a model. It is also possible that both came from the same model—a drawing, cartoon or painting—which has not survived. We also notice certain elements whose conception changed from the beginning of the painting, such as the Virgin’s hair, the lighting, the crowns on the heads, the position of certain fingers, the placement of the Child’s swaddling cloth, the wicker basket in the Madrid version, and the different overall conception of the two landscapes. All of this definitely points to a single shared model whose small modifications generate two clearly differentiable paintings, each with its own character. While Cano maintains his customary approach in making these two canvases, there is one technical aspect that distinguishes them, and it only appears in his Madrid work: light-colored underpainting. While the canvas that is among the large group of works at Granada Cathedral is underpainted fundamentally with earth tones and colored priming; the two Virgins at the Museo del Prado are distinguished by the presence of white lead. This allows us to locate their creation in one of the artist’s stays in Madrid, and, in light of the stylistic aspects observed by historians, we could hypothesize that it was his second period there (1645-52), which Wethey has quite correctly defined as the most productive period of Cano’s life (Text from Rodríguez Simón, L.; León, M. A.; García-Máiquez, J.: "Dos versiones de La Virgen con el Niño de Alonso Cano del Museo del Prado. Comparación y estudio técnico", Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXI, 49, 2013, pp. 54-63).


Technical data

Inventory number
Cano, Alonso
The Virgin and Child
1645 - 1652
Height: 166 cm; Width: 109.6 cm
Monastery of Piedad Bernarda, Madrid; Museo de la Trinidad

Bibliography +

Cruzada Villaamil, Gregorio, Catálogo provisional, historial y razonado del Museo Nacional de Pinturas, Madrid, 1865, pp. 140.

Martinez Chumillas, Manuel, Alonso Cano: estudio monográfico de la obra del insigne que fue de la catedral de Granada, Carlos Jaime, Madrid, 1949, pp. 155.

Camón Aznar, José, Los estilos de Alonso Cano. En:, Centenario de Alonso Cano en Granada, 1970, pp. 9-26 [15, L13].

Espinós, A.; Orihuela, M. y Royo Villanova, M. [et al.], ''El Prado disperso''. Cuadros depositados en Granada. II. Museo de Bellas Artes. Palacio de Carlos V, Boletín del Museo del Prado, IV, 1983, pp. 194.

Urrea, Jesús, La Pittura Madrilena del Secolo XVII, Edizioni Carte Segrete, Roma, 1991, pp. 88.

Esplendor de España 1598-1648. De Cervantes a Velázquez, Waanders Editores, Amsterdam, 1998, pp. 234.

Arte y saber: la cultura en tiempos de Felipe III y Felipe I, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura, Valladolid, 1999, pp. 316.

Alonso Cano: espiritualidad y modernidad artística : [IV Cen, Junta de Andalucía, Consejería de CulturaTf Editor, Granada, 2001, pp. 433-434.

Obras Maestras del Museo del Prado, The Yomiuri Shimbun, Tokyo, 2002, pp. nº 35.

Obras maestras del patrimonio de la universidad de Granada, Universidad de Granada, Granada, 2006, pp. 253-276.

Álvarez Lopera, José, El museo de la Trinidad: historia, obras y documentos, Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, 2009, pp. 87.

Rodriguez Simón, L. León, M.A García-Maíquez, J, Dos versiones de 'La Virgen con el Niño' de Alonso Cano del Museo del Prado. Comparación y estudio técnico, Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXI, 2013, pp. 54-63 f.1,f.4, f.3a,c,f.6c].

Other inventories +

Inv. Museo de la Trinidad, Pintura. Núm. 101.
101. / La Virgen sentada con el Niño en regazo de cuerpo entero y tamaño natural. / Autor Alonso Cano (sin firmar) / Rdo. Alto 1,63; ancho, 109. / Forrada y restaurada moldura dorada antigua de talla. Colgado en la gª pl. / Nº 172 / G.P.

Catálogo Museo de la Trinidad, 1865. Núm. 101.
ESCUELA GRANADINA [...] ALONSO CANO [...] 101. La Vírgen y el Niño. / Lienzo- Al. 1,675. - An. 1,105. - Fig. t. n. / La Santísima Vírgen con el niño en el regazo; sobre su cabeza brilla una estrella. Fondo de país. Repetición, con alguna variante, del cuadro del Museo Real, núm. 307.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1873-1907. Núm. 2149A.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 630.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1972. Núm. 630.

Exhibitions +

Museo del Prado 1819-2019
20.11.2018 - 10.03.2019

Obras maestras del Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
20.05.2004 - 12.09.2004

Obras maestras del Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
25.03.2004 - 10.05.2004

Obras maestras del Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
20.01.2004 - 15.03.2004

Obras maestras del Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada
28.11.2003 - 15.01.2004

Obras Maestras del Museo del Prado - Tokio
05.03.2002 - 23.06.2002

La cultura española de Cervantes a Velazquez, 1598-1648
10.03.1999 - 30.07.1999

La cultura española de Cervantes a Velazquez, 1598-1648
21.11.1998 - 07.03.1999

Pintura madrileña del Siglo XVII
10.12.1991 - 31.01.1992

Location +

Granada - Museo de Bellas Artes de Granada (Deposit)

Update date: 04-11-2021 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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