This will be the first in a trio of Marian art which I will be covering, and on Our Lady’s birthday no less. Living in the faith, one encounters the Virgin Mary with some frequency. Indeed those who pray the rosary daily, as I try to do, repeat the Hail Mary prayer 53 times. This may seem like a lot but I assure you it is meditative and very calming. The below is a masterpiece by Spanish painter Diego Velasquez. This piece was painted alongside a painting of Saint John the Evangelist on the Island of Patmos (where he was exiled), around 1618. I first discovered this painting when I saw it on Charlotte’s wall. She has the most beautiful thick gold frame for this work which highlights it.

Velázquez painted these two works as companion pieces during his early career in Seville, in around 1618. They were perhaps intended to promote the recent celebrations in the city of a papal decree defending the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, the belief that the Virgin Mary was conceived without sin.

Saint John and the Virgin both appear in the foreground, surrounded by objects identifying who they are, strongly illuminated from the top left. The colours of the Virgin’s clothes are echoed in reverse in Saint John’s, and both paintings demonstrate Velázquez’s skill in conveying a strong contrast between light and shade.

The below is, for me, a masterpiece in reverence and execution. Mary is shown standing on the world, praying, with her eyes cast downwards, lovingly. She is praying for us. She has a glow which contrasts with the dark world below, as though to emphasise her holiness. The twelve stars with which Jesus crowned her adorn her head with a supernatural glow. The clouds seem to be lifting her higher and the orange heavenly light behind her emphasises her yet further.

The Immaculate Conception is not to be confused with the Virgin Birth. The latter is Mary’s conception of Jesus. The former speaks of Mary having been conceived free from sin herself. This is an important distinction.

This painting, as aforementioned, is twinned with another, below. I should really do a whole post on the below separate from this one. I love how John is looking lovingly at a celestial light and the angel in it, as though to suggest that his next destination after Patmos will be heaven. The fabric of his clothing, much like the last painting, is rendered beautifully. Its lighting and movement is clear to the viewer. He is writing a book here, perhaps the Book of Revelation, which was written in Patmos.

John the Evangelist

These two paintings are quite extraordinary together. The former is of particular interest to me. Charlotte and I have spent many hours praying in front of this Mary painting and increasing our devotion to Our Lady. It is only fitting that we share this beloved painting with you, on this her birthday.