Our Theme for this Week: The Sacred Art of Mary.
As we search for great works of art around Mary and the birth of Jesus, may these reflections help bring us closer to Him through her.
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin: Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, 17th Century
Residing at the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore
At first glance, the simplicity of Murillo’s Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is its most striking feature. The composition is pared down to a heavenly golden glow, a wisp of clouds, six cherubim, and the main figure. This deliberate simplicity brings the eyes to a greater focus on Our Lady, whose solitariness highlights her purity and eminence. The colors that surround her image are neutral hues and gradient, contrasting her pale skin and garment, Renaissance symbols of purity. The young virgin, blushing in innocence, looks trustfully to the King of creation.
Her surroundings are from Revelation 12:1. The sun is her royal raiment, the moon her authority over heaven and earth, and the stars are for the twelve tribes of Israel; the whole of the chosen people crown the Mother of God. At the time this was painted, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not yet declared, but held as pious belief, giving Murillo creative liberty. He compares the Blessed Mother to Esther, quoting from Esther 15 on the scroll held by the cherubim, non pro te sed pro omnibus haec lex constituta est (“this law was not established for you, but for the people”). Esther, standing before the king in glorious raiment, seeks his audience, a crime punishable by death. Yet the king tells her that she alone is exempt from this law. The Blessed Virgin stands before God with the same exemption: freedom from the law of sin. Mary saves and redeems Christians by her privilege as Esther saved the Jews.
The Immaculate Conception is visibly our sinless, heavenly advocate. We see a meeting between the simple purity of a young and humble virgin and the celestial glory of God Who has graced her with the liberty of Heaven. For she was created to be our mother, and our surest advocate before her Father Who is Our Father, her Son Who is Our Savior, and her spouse Who is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God within us. This relation between God, humanity, and Our Lady is a mystery; Mary, conceived without sin and entirely pure, on behalf of all humanity, has gained the crown of creation. What the leaders of the world have despised, God has exalted. Let us praise God and the Blessed Mother for the graces she received. She who eternally looks to the King of All has secured His special favor, and we through her.