Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Oballe Chapel, Toledo

El Greco (1541 - 1614)
The Virgin of the Immaculate Conception
Oil on canvas
348 x 174,5 cm
Museo de Santa Cruz, Toledo

It looks very much like an Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But no. It is a depiction of The Immaculate Conception

The connection between the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception is a strong one. See Munificentissimus Deus

In her Will, Doña Isabel Oballe of Lima in Peru left money for the foundation of a chapel in the church of San Vicente in Toledo

The chapel is now known as the Oballe Chapel after the founder

El Greco changed the original  scheme or composition of the chapel

Instead of fresco, the main work was to be an oil canvas for the main altar on The Immaculate Conception

At the bottom of the painting one can see the city of Toledo. The event is happening over the contemporary city

Within that city the devotion to the Immaculate Conception was strong through the Franciscan Order and the Order founded by Saint Beatriz de Silva

(The Conceptionists, or the Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, were a Spanish order founded in 1484 by St Beatrice of Silva Menezes (1424-90). The order still continues today.)

The medieval Pope who championed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception was the Franciscan, Pope Sixtus IV (1414 -1484; pontiff 1471 - 1484)

On 8 December 1448 Sixtus delivered a famous sermon on The Immaculate Conception in the Duomo of St Antony of Padua. He stated that the theme of the sermon is in fact generation: ‘All generations will call me blessed’. 

He considered the use of the word generatio, and said:
with the angelic salutation and her divine response to the angel, in a clear vision appeared all the generations of the Virgin Mary, those who would be saved through Jesus Christ.

He said that ‘generations’ refers not only to the ancestors, but also to contemporary humanity, those who praise the Virgin’s intercessory power.

We also see the traditional symbols associated with the Virgin and the Immaculate Conception in particular: roses, lilies, mirror, fountain of clear water

The key note is purity

An ecstatic Mary (Tota Pulchra) is being raised up towards God

We recall the Canticle of Canticles 4:7, "Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee"

She, the angels and The Holy Spirit are transfigured by Light and by Colour

The Virgin is situated in a space inhabited by light, clouds and angels, and seems carried aloft in an ethereal atmosphere.

One also recalls that the Spouse of the Canticles "that goes up by the desert, as a pillar of smoke of aromatical spices, of myrrh and frankincense" to be crowned (Song of Songs 3:6)

She wears the then traditional blue and red. It is not until the 16th century that the popularisation of the vision of Saint Beatriz de Silva led to her being clothed in blue and white

That the idea of Mary existed at the time of Creation before the creation of Man was one which fascinated medieval theologians. The Catholic idea of "original sin" is not the same as others

In his sermon Sixtus IV said:
For is it not said in Genesis chapter 1 ‘Fiat lux’ and that holy and pure light that shines forth from the darkness is made, without whom nothing is done, (she) who nursed the divine sun on earth by whom humankind was saved?

Pope Sixtus IV commissioned a new Office from Leonardo Nogarolo (1477), the Officium Immaculatae Virginis Mariae, and later the Officium Conceptionis Virginis Mariae by Bernardino Busti (1492)

There was a Papal bull granting a generous indulgence to those celebrating the Mass and the Office

It was of course Sixtus who commissioned and built two chapels in the Vatican. One was for the Vatican Palace, the Sistine Chapel which he dedicated to the Assumption

The other was the chapel of St Peter which he built in the Old St Peter`s and which was dedicated to The Immaculate Conception. It was within this chapel that Michelangelo`s Pieta was originally located

On the top left of the work we see the figure of St John the Apostle

He is writing in a book

We are reminded of the Vision of St John the Evangelist (Revelation 12:1) of a 'woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars'. 

In addition to the main wall where the main altar was, there were three other paintings:vtwo paintings of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso (Patron saint of Toledo) on the side walls, and the Visitation on the ceiling.

The paintings of Saint Peter and Saint Ildefonso found their way, possibly throught Velázquez, into the Royal Palace in Madrid and from there to the Escorial. 

The Visitation, is now in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection in Washington DC

El Greco (1541 - 1614)
San Ildefonso. 
Oil on canvas
 219 x 105 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

El Greco (1541 - 1614)
San Pedro
Oil on canvas
209 x 106 cm
Monasterio de San Lorenzo, El Escorial

El Greco (1541 - 1614)
The Visitation
Oil on canvas
96.52 cm x 71.44 cm
Dumbarton Oaks Museum, Washington DC

There are similarities in The Vistation to El Greco`s The Vision of Saint John (1608–14) in The Metropolitan Museum in New York

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