Friday, December 07, 2012

A Brescian Immaculate Conception

Luca Mombello (1518-1520/ 1588-1596)
Immacolata Concezione con Dio Padre / The Immaculate Conception with God the Father
post 1550 - ante 1574
Oil on canvas
87 x 79.3 cm
Musei Civici di Arte e Storia. Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, Brescia

Nowadays this is a rather unusual representation of The Immaculate Conception

We are more used to the Spanish iconography of the 16th and 17th centuries following the Jesuit based Francisco Pacheco. and then Bartolomé Murillo, Diego Velázquez, and Francisco Zurbarán

Here we see the Immaculate Conception with child. It was not an unusual sight to see the Immaculate Conception with her son - before the Spanish iconography took over

It is the Spanish iconography which is firmly in the ascendant today as seen in the image below:

Immacolata concezione
c. 1950
Oil on panel
110 cm x 233 cm 
Raccolte d'Arte dell'Ospedale Maggiore, Milan

Not much is known about the artist Mombello who was part of the Brescian school. He seems to have both been born and have died in the town of Orzivecchi in the province of Brescia

We do know that he obtained a number of commissions from religious confraternities, third orders
and other religious iinstitutions in the area around Brescia. 

Many of them were associated with the Franciscan order which had a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and they were devotees of  the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception against the doubts or reservations of the Dominican order

Many of these works by Mombello were on a Marian theme

The setting of the work is the Garden of Eden: the Terrestrial Paradise. It is not as in the more modern treatment somewhere in outer space. Mary`s feet are firmly on terra firma

The Scriptural reference is to Genesis 3: 15  God`s words to the snake after Adam and Eve had succumbed to temptation
"15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel."

The painting depicts what is a historical event shortly after the beginning of the creation of Mankind. It is anchored in Time but outwith Time

It is not a scholarly abstraction that is being depicted

The snake is suitably terrified by the Divine words. 

To emphasise his words God the Father is pointing at Mary, the new Eve who is holding the Saviour, She has been singled out by God from all mankind at the Dawn of Time

God has revealed the source of Man`s salvation at the Time of the Fall of Man: His Son through Mary

At the time of the Annunciation this was revealed to Mary herself "the favoured one":
"26 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 
27 to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 
28 And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favoured one! The Lord is with you" 
(Luke 1: 26 - 28)

Slightly later when the pregnant Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, we read again in Luke 1 that Mary is "blessed among all woman"
"41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, 
42 cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 
43 And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord* should come to me 
44 For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. 
45 Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

In the picture Mary is clothed in blue with stars of gold. This is no ordinary cloak. Like God the Father, Mary is dressed regally. She has no crown or the regalia of God the Father. She is subservient to the Father

The cloak is similar to the cloak which Israel made for his beloved son Joseph. It was Joseph who had the dream of "the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to" him (See Genesis 37)

To the right is the angelic figure of St Michael clutching his sword and advancing towards the four figures in the centre

The commentary on the picture states that it is St Michael coming towards Adam and Eve to expel them from Paradise

But there is no Adam to expel. Adam is dust.  But we now have the New Adam being held by the Virgin in the centre of the picture. We also have the new Eve

One is reminded of Revelation, Chapter 12  and the only mention of St Michael in the New Testament
"7 Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, 
8 but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven"

The Garden - the hortus conclusus - reminds us of the garden of the Lover described in Song of Songs chapter 4 with the Well of Living Water on the right hand side of the painting

It is the same garden  which we see in depictions of the Annunciation and other scenes in the Life of Mary

"12 A garden enclosed, my sister, my bride,
a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed! 
13 Your branches are a grove of pomegranates,
with fruits of choicest yield:
Henna with spikenard, 
14 spikenard and saffron,
Sweet cane and cinnamon,
with all kinds of frankincense;
Myrrh and aloes,
with all the finest spices 
15 A garden fountain, a well of living water,
streams flowing from Lebanon. 
16 Awake, north wind!
Come, south wind!
Blow upon my garden
that its perfumes may spread abroad. 
Let my lover come to his garden
and eat its fruits of choicest yield"