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Sassoferrato, The Virgin in Prayer

Key facts
Full title The Virgin in Prayer
Artist Sassoferrato
Artist dates 1609 - 1685
Date made 1640-50
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 73 × 57.7 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Richard Simmons, 1846
Inventory number NG200
Location On loan: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, Chimei Museum, Tainan City, Taiwan
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
The Virgin in Prayer

This devotional painting makes us feel as if we are in the same room as the Virgin Mary, who appears almost life-size, praying in quiet devotion. The background is so plain and dark that nothing distracts us from her bowed head framed by a white headdress or her hands pressed gently together. Bright light draws attention to her dazzling blue drapery, giving life to the folds of the fabric. The blue is ultramarine, which was an extremely expensive pigment.

Sixteenth-century reformers of the Roman Catholic Church advocated a more personal approach to worship, placing great emphasis on individual contemplation. By the seventeenth century, the subject of the Virgin alone and at prayer had become very common. There are well over a dozen examples by Sassoferrato himself and numerous copies painted by his studio. Sassoferrato was strongly inspired by the work of earlier artists Raphael and Perugino.

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