The Coronation of the Virgin

Diego Velazquez
Keywords: CoronationVirgin

Work Overview

The Coronation of the Virgin
Diego Velázquez 
1635 - 1636. Oil on canvas, 178.5 x 134.5 cm

Velázquez painted The Coronation of the Virgin for Queen Elizabeth of Bourbon`s new prayer chapel at Madrid`s Alcázar palace, where it was intended to complete the series of nine paintings by Alessandro Turchi on The Feasts of Our Lady that Cardinal Gaspar de Borja y Velasco had sent to Madrid from Rome in 1635 or earlier. This was Velázquez`s last religious painting. The prayer chapel was on the second floor of the Alcázar, in the Galería del Cierzo, and was decorated with mural paintings by Angelo Nardi and an altarpiece build by Martín Ferrer on plans by Juan Gómez de Mora (now lost). Fifty-four paintings were hung there -probably in 1636- including Federico Barocci`s large Christ on the Cross (P07092). The iconography of Velázquez`s Coronation of the Virgin is traditional, following earlier models by Dürer and El Greco. The cherub leaning back on the right recalls a similar one in an engraving by Schelte of Bolswert after Rubens` Assumption of the Virgin. The canvas`s dimensions and the smaller-than-life-size figures are unusual for Velázquez and may reflect his need to adapt to the pre-existing series of paintings. Even the Virgin`s gesture, with one hand on her bosom, may have been intended to recall the Virgin`s left hand in Turchi`s Annunciation (P3166).

The Coronation is often dated from the early 1640s, but there are highly credible indications that it was painted in 1636. Antonio Palomino, whose chronology is usually quite precise, considers it contemporaneous with The Surrender of Breda, which was almost certainly completed in April 1635: At that time, he also painted a large historical painting of the Taking of a Plaza by Señor Don Ambrosio Espínola (...); as well as another of the Coronation of Our Lady, which was in the prayer chapel at the Queen`s quarters at the Palace (Palomino, [1724] 1986, p. 171). Exclusively on the basis of technical data, Carmen Garrido has convincingly argued that its execution corresponds to works painted by Velázquez around 1653. While Ceballos recently proposed that Borja may have commissioned Velázquez to paint this work for the queen after he returned to Madrid, it may also have been commissioned directly by the queen, or by the king as a present to decorate his wife`s prayer chapel. Velázquez has always been recognized as its author, except in a curious lapse in 1735, when it was listed among the works saved from the December 1734 fire at the Alcázar as an original by Racionero Cano (Text from Finaldi, G.: Fábulas de Velázquez. Mitología e Historia Sagrada en el Siglo de Oro, Museo Nacional del Prado, 2007, p. 325).