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Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Nativity of the Virgin



Luis de Morales ('El Divino') (1520 - 1586)
El Nacimiento de la Virgen / The Birth of the Virgin c 1560 - 1570
Oil on canvas
69,2 cm x 93,2 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid

The Birth of the Virgin involving St Anne and the Virgin Mary was one of the more popular themes in painting in Catholic devotional art

However this is the only example of the theme from the brush of the great Spanish artist Luis de Morales

He was one of the greatest devotional Spanish artists of the 16th century.

He exclusively painted religious subjects and the majority of his oeuvre is comprised of depictions of the Virgin and child, the Pietà, and Christ as the Man of Sorrows, Christ at the Column or Christ carrying the Cross, the preferred subjects of meditation of contemporary Spanish mystics such as Saint Peter of Alcántara (1499-1562), Fray Luis de Granada (1504-1588) and soon to be made a Doctor of the Church, Saint Juan de Avila (1500-1569)

Luis de Morales was known as 'El Divino', reflecting the spritual nature of his art which was intended as an aid to meditation.

Morales spent most of his life in the border town of Badajoz. He was close to the Spanish king, King Philip II. Indeed in 1581, Philip made a special stop in Badajoz while travelling to Portugal, to visit Morales.

Morales received his initial training in the Seville workshop of the Fleming Pieter de Kempeneer (known in Spain as Pedro de Campaña). Critics have seen in his works the influence of Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci through the influence of italianising Flemish painters working in Spain


The Feast of the Nativity of the Mother of God has a very long pedigree in the Church. East and West.

Under Constantine a church was erected in Sephoris to commemorate the residence of Joachim and Anna in that place. St. Sophronius, St John Damascene and St. Andrew of Crete (d. 680) mention it as one of the Feasts of Mary

When Pope St. Sergius I prescribed what is known as the litany, or the stational procession, to be held on four Marian feasts, he specified together the Feasts of the Nativity, the Annunciation, the Purification, and the Dormition of the Virgin Mary.

Even after the English Reformation, from 1561, the calendar of the Church of England (which was reproduced in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) contained five feasts associated with Mary of which the Nativity of Mary was one. (The others were the Conception of Mary, Annunciation, Visitation, and Purification/Presentation.)

It is one of the main celebrations that commemorate the salvific events in which the Blessed Virgin Mary was closely associated with her Son.

As has been said "In her hand are the treasures of the mercies of the Lord" (St. John-Damascene, Sermon I. on the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin).

It falls about nine months after the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

The great Marian Doctor, St Bernard of Clairvaux delivered one of the great sermons on the Feast:

"Such is the will of God, who has wished that we should have all things through Mary. ... This stream [Christ] from the heavenly source [God the Father] descends to us through an aqueduct [Mary]; … The aqueduct itself is always full, so that all may receive of its fullness, yet not the fullness itself. … an Aqueduct which, receiving the fullness of the Fountain from the Father's heart, has transmitted it to us, if not as it is in itself, at least in so far as we could contain it."
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon For the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also called On the Aqueduct Of Divine Grace)