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Louvre: Murillo – Assumption of the Virgin

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Murillo - Assumption of the VirginDenon wing1st floor

“The Virgin, in a white robe, her shoulders covered with a mantle of azure, crowned with stars and her feet on the crescent of the moon, ascends, with the lightness of a vapor, towards the divine residence where is waited for her throne. His beautiful hands are crossed over his breast, and his eyes, drowned with ecstasy, eagerly drink the eternal light. She will find in heaven, full of glory and at the right hand of the Father, the Son whom she saw dying on the cross. Around the Virgin floats, in a luminous mist made of azure, silver, and gold, a garland of little cherubim, beautiful as angels, kind as lovers, who frolic, flutter, and hasten with happy gaiety. Never did Daniel Seghers, the Jesuit of Antwerp, paint such a fresh crown of roses around a virgin of Rubens, and Murillo’s cherubim are more delicate, lighter, more tender. The flowers of Paradise prevail over those of the earth. This picture, however admirable, is not the most perfect of the master of Seville, but it has for him an adorable charm, an irresistible seduction. To the sentiment of the most fervent Catholicism, he joined a kind of pious coquetry, celestial affectation and lovingly devout grace that could only be conceived and rendered a Spanish painter believing and convinced.” (Théophile Gautier.)

Believing, Murillo was equal to those monks who devoted their brushes, in the depths of the Florentine cloisters, to the exclusive glorification of God. Like Beato Angelico, he devoted his art to celebrating heavenly joys and exalting the radiant image of the Virgin. More than twenty canvases of the Immaculate Conception are known from him; the Prado Museum has four from the collection of Queen Isabella Farnese; four others are in the provincial museum of Seville, another in the chapter house of the Cathedral. There are some in England, and the Louvre prides itself on keeping two, among which the most famous of all, the one reproduced here, whose reputation is worldwide.

But all have a great seduction and Vasari’s sentence on Correggio’s women could be applied to them: “They are so pretty that one would think they were made in Paradise.”

This beauty is very particular to Murillo; it borrows nothing from the aesthetics of the great Italians; she does not have the supernatural sweetness that Raphael lends to her Madonnas. The Virgins of Murillo are rather pretty and delicate, childish, almost naive, with a touch of realism, I do not dare say vulgarity, which makes them closer to us and makes them more accessible.

And it is precisely this charm and delicacy, arising in the ascetic and dark Spanish art as a flood of sunshine in the darkness of an undergrowth, that gives Murillo’s work its exceptional and remarkable character. Before him, religious painting was austere and delighted in tragic spectacles of torture and martyrdom. No joy enlightened these frightful scenes inspired by a faith incessantly goaded by the fear of hell; no joy, not even that of color. Herrera, El Greco, and Ribera are the most illustrious representatives in this way, in accordance with the severe formulas of the Inquisition. Everything else is Murillo. “His work,” wrote Gustave Geffroy, “smiles, sings, and shimmers voluptuously. In the place where the damned grimaced, in the puffs of red smoke, we see little angels or little loves, winged, who rejoice. Murillo took Spain by the end of the crisis, and discreetly he removed the easels, pincers, instruments of torture still hot and red; he works to conquer souls by gentleness and seduction, he makes accessible and charming the religion of iron and blood of the Inquisitors. Murillo decorates a church like a theater and makes the sacristy a boudoir.”

The Assumption of the Virgin, which has become popular by dint of being reproduced, is not, in the absolute sense of the word, an image of piety; but it remains a graceful, seductive apparition, a pretty wreath of sweet flowers picked by a pious painter to offer it to the Virgin.

This famous painting represents the Assumption of the Virgin, her flight to God on the wings of the charming cohort of angels; however Murillo has entitled it, as well as his other canvases on the same subject, the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin. In spite of the catalog which inscribes it under this title, we preserve him the one which the universal favor has consecrated.

This celebrated painting, brought from Spain by Soult, was hotly contested for sale after the death of the Marshal. Awarded to the State for 615,500 francs, he figured a long time at Salon Carré.

Height: 2.74 – Width: 1.90 – Figures: life size.

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