Throughout the 17th century a strong religious sentiment arose in Spain that was inspired by the struggle against reformist Lutheranism and is known as the Counter-Reformation. The Counter-Reformation encompassed different aspects of the society and culture of this time, in this sense we must highlight how art in general and painting in particular, were placed at the service of the new Counter-Reformation ideals; It was then, when the image of the Virgin Mary gradually acquired a greater prominence, Mary and all the Marian symbols became the way of salvation and her image acquired great prominence in the world of art.
The work that concerns us here and which is known by the name of Virgen del Rosario, is one of those counter-reformist images that enhance the figure of the Virgin Mary,in the It is currently exhibited in the Prado Museum in Madrid and was made by the artist Bartolomé Murillo. The Sevillian artist is one of the great figures of the painting of the Spanish Golden Age and although perhaps his most representative work is the genre aspect with scenes of daily life of his time, the truth is that he also made a good number of works religious -among which his Immaculate Conception stands out- of great fervour.
Murillo developed almost his entire artistic career in Seville where he achieved numerous successes, in Seville Morillo had no competitor and soon becamein the central figure of the Andalusian school. As a member of the Brotherhood of the Rosary, the artist painted the work that concerns us here between 1650 and 1655, it is a large oil on canvas in a vertical format that measures almost one meter seventy in height and more than meter twenty in width. We find ourselves before a devotional work, created to inspire devotion in the viewer and encourage prayer.
On a neutral and dark background, the figures of the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus are cut out. She appears seated and has been represented as a young woman, almost an adolescent, who wears simple clothes: a large reddish dress and a dark blue tunic; her clothes do not fit her body but are wide and with numerous folds. In her arms and perched on her lap, the Virgin holds the child Jesus, a boy of about two years, who appears naked and only covered by a white cloth held by his mother, the idea of representing a nude figure during the time of the counter-reformation was not well seen.
Both figures are silhouetted against a dark background and stare at the viewer while touching their cheeks together in a simple but very loving gesture. Between the hands of the protagonists we can see a rosary that is not being used to pray – none of the characters holds the beads – but as a symbol of sacred union between them. The figures are volumetric and their position refers to the pyramidal compositions of Italian Renaissance painting, especially the Madonnas painted by Raphael.