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Diego Velázquez, The Immaculate Conception

Key facts
Full title The Immaculate Conception
Artist Diego Velázquez
Artist dates 1599 - 1660
Series Two Paintings for the Shod Carmelites, Seville
Date made 1618-19
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 135 × 101.6 cm
Acquisition credit Bought with the aid of the Art Fund, 1974
Inventory number NG6424
Location On loan: The Illustrious Guest series, Gallerie d'Italia - Palazzo del Banco di Napoli, Naples, Italy
Collection Main Collection
The Immaculate Conception
Diego Velázquez

A young woman floats above a landscape, standing on a translucent moon and with a crown of 12 stars. This imagery is based on the New Testament Book of Revelation. In it, Saint John the Evangelist records his vision of the Woman of the Apocalypse, who bears a male child and is threatened by a dragon – the devil.

In the Catholic faith, this woman represents the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. Her hands are clasped in prayer and she looks down in humility to show her protection over mankind. The garden, fountain, temple and ship at the bottom are all symbols normally associated with her and were included in a litany (or prayer) dedicated to the Virgin.

With its companion painting, Saint John on the Island of Patmos, this is one of Velázquez’s earliest known works.

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Two Paintings for the Shod Carmelites, Seville


Velázquez painted these two works as companion pieces during his early career in Seville, in around 1618. They were perhaps intended to promote the recent celebrations in the city of a papal decree defending the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin.

We don't know who commissioned The Immaculate Conception and Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos, but they are first recorded in 1800 in the chapter house of the Convent of the Shod Carmelite Order in Seville.

Saint John and the Virgin both appear in the foreground, surrounded by objects identifying who they are, strongly illuminated from the top left. The colours of the Virgin’s clothes are echoed in reverse in Saint John’s, and both paintings demonstrate Velázquez’s skill in conveying a strong contrast between light and shade.