This exceptional, unpublished panel of the Virgin and child, known as the Virgén del sombrero on account of the wide, brown-lilac plaited hat she wears on her head, is a notable addition to the oeuvre of perhaps the greatest Spanish devotional painter of the 16th century, Luis de Morales. The artist fulfilled the need amongst the fervently religious at that time for highly spiritual devotional works and such was his success that his legacy was ensured through his posthumous labelling with the epithet 'El Divino'. The origins of his style are complex and indeed difficult to establish, but the clarity of form and harmonious interplay of his compositions in the manner of Raphael or Leonardo da Vinci would indicate the influence of italianising Flemish painters working in Spain, of which there were many. Indeed, if Palomino is to be believed, Morales received his initial training in the Seville workshop of the Fleming Pieter de Kempeneer (known in Spain as Pedro de Campaña).
Morales exclusively painted religious subjects and the majority of his oeuvre is comprised of depictions of the Virgin and child, the Pietà, and Christ as the Man of Sorrows, Christ at the Column or Christ carrying the Cross. The present composition, showing the Virgin half length, facing left, clad in a wide hat and white gown with green-blue and red embroideries, a blue mantle over her left shoulder and holding the Christ child who grasps her in return round the neck, exists in three other autograph versions; in the I. de Balanzó collection, Barcelona; the collection of the Conde de Adanero, Madrid; and that sold London, Christie's, 8 July 2005, lot 17.1 This latter differs from the others in having been painted early on in the artist's career, circa 1539-49, and indeed it differs from the rest of Morales' oeuvre in being quite probably a portrait of the Empress Elizabeth of Portugal, portrayed a lo divino, with her infant son the future Philip II. Particular to the group as a whole is the distinctive carrot-red hair of the Virgin and her rather fuller-cheeked face in place of the more usual gaunt expression.
Attempting to place any work by Morales within a chronology is extremely difficult given that his style changed very little throughout his career but we are very grateful to Dr. Isabel Mateo for dating this work to Morales' maturity on account of the particularly fine and precise brushstrokes.
Although there is a painting loosely described as "Our Saviour and the Virgin", artist not recorded, listed in the 1750 inventory of the Clarendon collection made for the Right Honourable Lord Hyde before the sale of Cornbury in that year (published in Lady Theresa Lewis, Lives of the Friends and Contemporaries of Lord Chancellor Clarendon, vol. III, London 1852, pp. 259-260) it is subsequently listed as missing by Lewis when compiling her 1852 transcription of the inventory. It seems very unlikely that this entry could be identifiable with the present lot, although it should not be wholly discounted given that the collection only seems to have included two works of this subject. It seems more likely however that the present work entered the collection some eighty years later between 1833-1839 when 4th Earl of Clarendon was sent to Madrid as envoy-extraordinary and minister-plenipotentiary. Many of the works collected at this time by the 4th Earl were sold at Christie's in 1920, including another Morales (depicting the Pietà; lot 68) and a set of superb large canvases chronicling the life of Saint Buena Ventura by Francisco de Herrera the Elder (lots 46-8).2 For further information on the Clarendon collection please see the introduction preceding lot 14 in this sale.
1. For the first two see I. Bäcksbacka, Luis de Morales, Helsinki 1962, p. 179, nos. 75, 76, reproduced figs. 122, 123 respectively.
2. London, Christie's, 13 February 1920.
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