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The Virgin of Louvain
Orley, Bernard van
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Orley, Bernard van

Brussels (?), 1488 - Brussels, 1541

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The Virgin of Louvain

Ca. 1520. Oil on panel. Room 057A

According to the Latin inscription on the back of this panel, which attributes it to Jan Gossaert, it was acquired by the magistrate of Louvain in 1588 from that city’s Augustinian monks. It was intended as a gift of thanks to Philip II for having waived the taxes and tariffs owed by the inhabitants of Louvain for twelve years after that city was decimated by the plague in 1578. Seeking to give the king something he would enjoy, they chose a painting. As Philip II’s appreciation of old Flemish painting was common knowledge, an effort was made to acquire a work of quality. Two painters -Jan de Rillaert and Lenaert de Marienberghe- were charged with the task of selecting it, and they decided that The Virgin of Louvain was One of Gossaert’s most exceptional jewels.

The inscription’s attribution of this work to Jan Gossaert was originally considered unquestionable, especially because it was written in the century and city where the work itself had been painted. Recently, however, Friedländer has suggested that its style is not that of Jan Gossaert, but rather of Barend van Orley, dating from around 1520.

The Renaissance architecture is rather contrived and not in proportion to the panel’s figures, which reflects Barend van Orley’s style from around 1520, when he was already influenced by Raphael. This did not, however, keep him from including models and symbols from the Flemish tradition in a pyramidal Renaissance composition like the present depiction of Mary and her Son.

Unlike many other works brought to Spain during the second half of the 16th century, the provenance of this painting is well known, as are the circumstances associated with Philip II’s acquisition of it. The characteristics of the donation probably explain why it was not sent to the monastery at El Escorial until Philip II’s death in 1598. It remained there until it was taken to the Museo del Prado in 1839 (Text drawn from Silva, P.: Pintura flamenca de los siglos XV y XVI. Guía, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2001, p. 126).

Technical data

Inventory number
Orley, Bernard van
The Virgin of Louvain
Ca. 1520
Height: 45 cm.; Width: 39 cm.
Royal Collection (Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo, El Escorial, Madrid, "camarín", 1839)

Bibliography +

Van Even, Edward., L'ancienne ecole de peinture de Louvain, Bruselas-Lovaina, 1870, pp. 416-419.

Mont, P.De, Exposition de la Toison D'Or et de L'Art Neerlandais, G.Van Oest & Cie, Bruselas, 1907.

Weisz, Ernst, Jan Gossart Gen. Mabuse. Sein Leben Und Seine Werke, Hermann Freises Verlag, Parchim, 1913, pp. 120/ lám.34.

Florit, José María., Los aposentos de Felipe II en El Escorial, BOLETIN DE LA SOCIEDAD ESPAÑOLA DE EXCURSIONES, 31, 1923, pp. 296.

Nowe, H., Keizer Karel en Zijn Tijd., Museum Voor Schone Kunsten, Gante, 1955.

Pauwels, Henri, Jan Gossaert genaamd Mabuse: Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, R, Nederlands- Belgisch Cultureel Accoor, Rotterdam-Brujas, 1965, pp. 93-95.

Waterhouse, Ellis1905-, Paintings. The James A. De Rothschild Collection at Waddesdo, Office du Livre, Londres, 1967, pp. 196.

Friedländer, Max J., Early netherlandish painting, A.W.Sijthoff, Leyden-Bruselas, 1972, pp. 60-61,108.

Merchán Cantisán, Regla, El deán López-Cepero y su colección pictórica, Diputación Provincial, Sevilla, 1979, pp. lám.17.

Farmer, John David, Bernard van Orley of Brussels (tesis), Princeton University, Princeton, 1981.

Brown, Jonathan1939-, Las Colecciones del Rey. Pintura y Escultura, IV CENTENARIO MONASTERIO ESCORIAL,4, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 1986, pp. 146.

Museo Nacional del Prado, La pintura flamenca en el Prado, IbercajaFonds Mercator, Amberes, 1989, pp. 88.

Checa Cremades, Fernando, Felipe II: mecenas de las artes, Nerea, Madrid, 1992, pp. 413.

Checa Cremades, F, Un príncipe del Renacimiento: Felipe II, un monarca y su ép..., Sociedad Estatal para la Commemoración de los cent..., Madrid, 1998, pp. 428.

Carolus. Charles Quint 1500-1558., Snoeck: Ducaju & Zoom, Gand, 1999, pp. 150.

García-Frías Checa, Carmen, 'De la grandeza y variedad de la pintura que hay en esta casa' La colección pictórica de Felipe II en El Monasterio de El Escorialo, De El Bosco a Tiziano: arte y maravilla en El Escorial, Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid, 2013, pp. 35-51 [40].

Heriguez, Samantha, La Madone de Louvain de Bernard van Orley: les dessous d'une attribution longtemps controversée, Ars longa, 22, 2013, pp. 131-141 f.1.

Pérez Preciado, José Juan, ''Restituir la paternidad de algunas tablas muy bellas''. Sobre las atribuciones históricas de la pintura neerlandesa antigua en el Museo del Prado (1819-1912)., Boletín del Museo del Prado, XXXII, 2014, pp. 7, 18.

Other inventories +

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1854-1858. Núm. 457.

Inv. Real Museo, 1857. Núm. 457.
Mabuse (Juan) / 457. La Virgen con el niño dios en sus brazos. / Está sentada en el marmol de un portico del estilo del renacimiento. (tabla) / Alto 1 pie, 7 pulg, 4 lin; ancho 1 pie, 4 pulg, 6 lin.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1872-1907. Núm. 1385.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1910. Núm. 1536.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1933. Núm. 1536.

Catálogo Museo del Prado, 1942-1996. Núm. 1536.

Exhibitions +

Bernard van Orley
20.02.2019 - 26.05.2019

Meta-painting. A Journey to the Idea of Art
15.11.2016 - 19.02.2017

Captive Beauty. Fra Angelico to Fortuny
21.05.2013 - 10.11.2013

Location +

Room 057A (On Display)


Displayed objects +

Flower Arrangement

Update date: 16-10-2020 | Registry created on 28-04-2015

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