Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Immaculate Conception

Guido Reni (Italian, Bologna 1575–1642 Bologna)
Oil on canvas
105 1/2 x 73 in. (268 x 185.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Victor Wilbour Memorial Fund, 1959
Accession Number:
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 601
Reni, the most celebrated painter of seventeenth-century Italy, was particularly famous for the beauty of his female heads and the devotional effectiveness of his pictures of the Virgin Mary. This altarpiece was commissioned in about 1627 by the Spanish Ambassador, the Count of Oñate, for the Infanta of Spain. It was later in the Cathedral of Seville, where it exercised a deep influence on Spanish painters, especially Murillo. It was subsequently (1851–1946) in the collection of the Earls of Ellesmere at Bridgewater House in London.
commissioned for María, Infanta of Spain, by the Spanish ambassador to Rome, in 1627; Seville cathedral; Horace François Bastien Sebastiani de la Porta, comte Sebastiani, later Maréchal (imported to Paris; sold to Delahante); Alexis Delahante, London (sold to Taylor); George Watson Taylor, Cavendish Square, London, and Erlestoke Mansion, Wiltshire (by 1818–32; his sale, Christie's, London, June 13, 1823, no. 65, as "Assumption of the Virgin," withdrawn; his sale, George Robins, Erlestoke, July 25, 1832, no. 158, for £1,102.12 to Smith); [Smith, London, from 1832]; Lord Francis Egerton, later 1st Earl of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House, London (by 1836–d. 1857; cats., 1851, 1856, no. 117); the Earls of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House (1857–1944; cats., 1897, 1907, no. 117); John Sutherland Egerton, 5th Earl of Ellesmere, Bridgewater House (1944–46; his sale, Christie's, London, October 18, 1946, no. 135, as "The Assumption," for £6.6 to Reder); David Reder, London (from 1946); [Oscar Klein, New York, 1956–58]; [Acquavella, New York, 1958–59; sold to MMA]
London. British Institution. 1818, no. 41 (as "Assumption of the Virgin," lent by G. W. Taylor).

London. British Institution. May 1836, no. 1 (as "Assumption of the Virgin," by Murillo [changed to Guido], lent by Lord Francis Egerton).

Manchester. Art Treasures Palace. "Art Treasures of the United Kingdom," May 5–October 17, 1857, no. 881 (as "Assumption of the Virgin," lent by the Earl of Ellesmere).

Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. "Guido Reni, 1575–1642," September 5–November 10, 1988, no. 50.

Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. "Guido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm," December 2, 1988–February 26, 1989, no. A20.

Guido Reni. Letter to Antonio Galeazzo Fibbia. August 19, 1627 [published in Giovanni Bottari and Stefano Ticozzi, eds. "Raccolta di lettere sulla pittura, scultura ed architettura," 8 vols., Milan, 1822–25, vol. 1, 1822, pp. 296–97], writes that he has accepted the commission for a large painting [this work] from the ambassador of Spain.

Document. December 31, 1627 [Archivio Barberini, Biblioteca Vaticana; published in Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, "Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art," New York, 1975, p. 30, no. 255], records arrangements made by the Barberini to send porters to Bologna to bring the painting back to Rome.

Document. December 1627 [Archivio Barberini, Biblioteca Vaticana; published in Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, "Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art," New York, 1975, p. 30, no. 256].

Document. January 1, 1628 [Archivio Barberini, Biblioteca Vaticana; published in Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, "Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art," New York, 1975, p. 30, no. 258].

Document. April 1629 [Archivio Barberini, Biblioteca Vaticana; published in Marilyn Aronberg Lavin, "Seventeenth-Century Barberini Documents and Inventories of Art," New York, 1975, p. 30, no. 260], records the payment to Carlo Ciliani for customs tax on this painting.

Gio[vanni]. Pietro Bellori. Le vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti moderni. Rome, 1672, p. 23v, notes that the Spanish ambassador had commissioned for the Infanta a painting of the Immaculate Conception by Reni; relates that the ambassador's constant visits and impatience for the work to be completed resulted in Reni sending the picture to Bologna, from where it was returned to Rome only after the Pope's intervention.

Carlo Cesare Malvasia. Felsina pittrice: vite de' pittori bolognesi. Bologna, 1678, vol. 2, p. 37 [1841 ed., Bologna, ed. Giampietro Zanotti, vol. 2, p. 27; 1971 ed., Bologna, ed. Marcella Brascaglia, pp. 368–69].

[Jean Baptiste Pierre] LeBrun. Recueil de gravures au trait, à l'eau forte, et ombrées, d'après un choix de tableaux de toutes les écoles, recueillis dans un voyage fait en Espagne, au Midi de la France et en Italie, dans les années 1807 et 1808. Paris, 1809.

A Catalogue of the Very Distinguished Collection of Italian, French, Flemish, Dutch, and English Pictures, of the Finest Class, of George Watson Taylor, Esq. Christie's, London. June 13–14, 1823, p. 8, no. 65, states that it comes from the Seville cathedral.

W[illiam]. Buchanan. Memoirs of Painting, with a Chronological History of the Importation of Pictures by the Great Masters into England since the French Revolution. London, 1824, vol. 2, p. 193, no. 15, lists it among works imported to England by Delahante; states that it was originally in Spain, that it came from the collection of General Sebastiani, and that Delahante sold it to Taylor.

Mrs. Jameson. Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London. London, 1844, p. 108, no. 53, as in the Bridgewater Gallery; points out that although it is known as the Assumption of the Virgin, the actual subject is the Immaculate Conception; states that it was bought by Lord F. Egerton, and that "it was formerly in the collection of the Prince of Peace, and obtained from Spain by the Chevalier Bourke, who sold it to Mr. Watson Taylor".

Catalogue of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures, Belonging to the Earl of Ellesmere, at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's. 3rd ed. [London], 1851, pp. 18–19, no. 117, as "The Assumption, or the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, attended by Angels"; marked as added to the collection by the Earl of Ellesmere.

George Stanley, ed. A Biographical and Critical Dictionary of Painters and Engravers. By Michael Bryan. new ed. London, 1853, p. 629, calls it "the perfection of the ideal in painting".

Catalogue of the Bridgewater Collection of Pictures, Belonging to the Earl of Ellesmere, at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's. 5th ed. [London], 1856, pp. 20–21, no. 117, as "The Assumption, or the Immaculate Conception"; states that it came from the Seville cathedral, was imported to France by Sebastiani, who sold it to Delahante, who sold it to Taylor, at whose sale in 1832 it was bought by Smith; notes that it has recently been engraved by W. H. Watt.

W. Burger [Théophile Thoré]. Trésors d'art exposés à Manchester en 1857. Paris, 1857, p. 102 [reprinted as "Trésors d'art en Angleterre," Brussels, 1860, with same pagination].

G[eorge]. S[charf]. A Handbook to the Paintings by Ancient Masters in the Art Treasures Exhibition. London, 1857, p. 70, calls it "The Virgin in Glory" and "a weak specimen of the master at his weakest period".

Mrs. Jameson. Legends of the Madonna. London, 1864, pp. 48, 327, lists it with three other paintings of the Immaculate Conception ascribed to Reni as among the earliest accredited pictures of the subject; states that it was painted for the Infanta of Spain and places it chronologically before the picture at Forlì [see Notes].

Charles Blanc and Henri Delaborde. Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles: École bolonaise. Paris, 1877, p. 16.

George Redford. Art Sales. London, 1888, vol. 2, p. 235, records the purchase price at the 1832 sale as £1,102.12.

Catalogue of the Bridgewater and Ellesmere Collections of Pictures at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's, London. [London?], 1897, p. 21, no. 117.

Mrs. Steuart Erskine. "The Bridgewater and Ellesmere Collections in Bridgewater House." Connoisseur 6 (May 1903), p. 10, calls it "most painfully coloured" and "said to have been used as a banner in processions".

Catalogue of the Bridgewater and Ellesmere Collections of Pictures and Statuary at Bridgewater House, Cleveland Square, St. James's, London. [London], 1907, p. 23, no. 117.

Vincenzo Costantini. Guido Reni. Milan, 1928, p. 181, mentions a "Beata Vergine" commissioned by the Spanish ambassador.

Walter Friedlaender. "Der antimanieristische Stil um 1590 und sein Verhältnis zum Übersinnlichen." Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg (1928–29), p. 222 n. 2, mentions it as having been made for the Spanish Infanta, and notes that it probably had a direct influence on Spanish painting.

Otto Kurz. "Guido Reni." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien, n.s., 11 (1937), p. 218, identifies this picture, then in Bridgewater House, as the work Reni painted for the Spanish Infanta.

Giuseppe Fiocco. "Una pala ritrovata di Guido Reni." Arte antica e moderna no. 4 (October–December 1958), pp. 388–89, pl. 151 and ill. opp. p. 388 (color), identifies it with the picture described by Malvasia in 1678 [see Ref.], commissioned by the Spanish ambassador; dates it about 1625, before the Forlì painting.

"Bibliografía." Archivo español de arte 32 (October–December 1959), p. 350, pl. 1, briefly reviews Ref. Fiocco 1958.

Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez. Pintura italiana del s. XVII en España. PhD diss., Universidad de Madrid. Madrid, 1965, pp. 169, 175.

D. Stephen Pepper. "Guido Reni's Early Drawing Style." Master Drawings 6 (Winter 1968), p. 366.

D. Stephen Pepper. "A Rediscovered Painting by Guido Reni." Apollo 90 (September 1969), pp. 208, 210–11, 213 nn. 4, 10, fig. 3, relates the light palette to that used in Charity (MMA, 1974.348), which he dates slightly later.

Howard Hibbard. "Guido Reni's Painting of the Immaculate Conception." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28 (Summer 1969), pp. 18–32, ill., dates it 1627; discusses the iconography of the Immaculate Conception, comparing the MMA painting with others of the same subject; dates the version in Forlì about 1623 and states that the related Assumption in Castelfranco Emilia was completed in 1627; suggests that the MMA picture may have been influenced by Bernini's Saint Bibiana (Santa Bibiana, Rome) of 1624–26 and also notes the influence of the MMA work on Algardi's stucco Mary Magdalen (San Silvestro al Quirinale, Rome) of about 1628.

D. Stephen Pepper. "Guido Reni's Early Style: His Activity in Bologna, 1595–1601." Burlington Magazine 111 (August 1969), p. 475 n. 20.

Edi Baccheschi in L'opera completa di Guido Reni. Milan, 1971, p. 104, no. 135, ill.

Selected, introduced, and annotated by Frank Herrmann. The English as Collectors: A Documentary Chrestomathy. New York, 1972, fig. 50, reproduces a photograph showing it hanging in the picture gallery at Bridgewater House.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 173, 306, 609.

D. Stephen Pepper. "Guido Reni's 'Il Diamante': A New Masterpiece for Toledo." Burlington Magazine 115 (October 1973), p. 633.

A. Pigler. Barockthemen: Eine Auswahl von Verzeichnissen zur Ikonographie des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts. 2nd ed. [first ed. 1956]. Budapest, 1974, vol. 1, p. 508.

Evelina Borea, ed. Le vite de' pittori, scultori e architetti moderni. By Giovanni Pietro Bellori. Turin, 1976, p. 526 n. 1.

Diego Angulo Íñiguez. "Varias pinturas sevillanas: Asunción de Tristán." Archivo español de arte 56 (April–June 1983), pp. 161, 163, fig. 13, attributes an Immaculate Conception (fig. 10) on the art market in London to Zurbarán and comments on its similarity to the MMA picture; reproduces the copy (fig. 14) of the MMA painting now hanging in the Seville cathedral.

D. Stephen Pepper. Guido Reni: A Complete Catalogue of his Works with an Introductory Text. New York, 1984, pp. 31, 256–57, 261, no. 114, pl. 139, states mistakenly that it is said to have come from the Toledo cathedral; dates the Castelfranco Emilia Assumption slightly earlier (1626–27) and the Forlì Immaculate Conception slightly later (1628–29).

Ursula Schlegel. "Bernini und Guido Reni." Jahrbuch der Berliner Museen 27 (1985), p. 140.

Brigitte Kühn. "Guido Renis Vorzeichnung für die Immaculata Conceptio in Forlì." Römische historische Mitteilungen 27 (1985), p. 434.

Wolfgang Prohaska in Guido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm. Ed. Sybille Ebert-Schifferer, Andrea Emiliani, and Erich Schleier. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1988, p. 665, believes it influenced Ribera's painting of the same subject of 1637 (Graf Harrach'sche family collection, Rohrau).

Angelo Mazza et al. in Guido Reni, 1575–1642. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. Bologna, 1988, pp. LXXXVI, 122–23, 202, no. 50, ill. [English ed., Los Angeles, 1988, pp. 254–55, 259 n. 10, pp. 264–66, no. 41, ill.].

Sybille Ebert-Schifferer et al. in Guido Reni und Europa: Ruhm und Nachruhm. Exh. cat., Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt. Frankfurt, 1988, pp. 17–18, 28, 30, 175–78, 197, 200, 702, 718, no. A20, ill. (color).

Michel Feuillet. "Contribution à l'histoire de l'Assomption des Philippins de Pérouse de Guido Reni: Le retour à la lumière d'un chef-d'oeuvre du musée des Beaux-Arts." Bulletin des musées et monuments lyonnais no. 2 (1988), p. 14, fig. 8.

Robert B. Simon with Frank Dabell in Important Old Master Paintings: Devotion and Delight. Exh. cat., Piero Corsini, Inc. New York, Fall 1989, p. 80, fig. 3 (detail).

Richard E. Spear. "Re-viewing the 'Divine' Guido." Burlington Magazine 131 (May 1989), p. 372, under no. 46.

Claudio Strinati in Opus Sacrum. Ed. Józef Grabski. Exh. cat., Royal Castle, Warsaw. Vienna, 1990, pp. 228–29, figs. 3, 5 (overall and detail).

Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez in Jusepe de Ribera, 1591–1652. Exh. cat., Castel Sant'Elmo et al. Naples, 1992, p. 284, states that it seems to have influenced Ribera's painting of the same subject dated 1635 (Chiesa del Convento delle Agustinas Recoletas di Monterrey, Salamanca).

Wolfgang Prohaska. "I rapporti di Ribera con la pittura fiamminga in area mediterranea: Il caso Van Dyck." Scritti in memoria di Raffaello Causa: Saggi e documenti per la storia dell'arte, 1994–1995. Naples, 1996, p. 214.

Richard E. Spear in The Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 26, New York, 1996, p. 197, fig. 2.

Anthony Colantuono. Guido Reni's "Abduction of Helen": The Politics and Rhetoric of Painting in Seventeenth-Century Europe. Cambridge, 1997, pp. 17–20, 22, 54, 109, 248 n. 26, p. 249 n. 39, fig. 7, states that the Spanish ambassador, whom he identifies as Iñigo Vélez de Guevara y Tasís, 5th Count of Oñate, had commissioned a Rape of Helen (Musée du Louvre, Paris) from Reni as well as the Immaculate Conception, and that Reni's letter to Fibbia of August 19, 1627 [see Ref.] could refer to either work, although most probably to the latter picture; recounts in detail the altercations between Reni and Oñate; notes that the commission of the Immaculate Conception was related to the Spanish desire for the pope to define this doctrine as dogma.

Gérard-Julien Salvy. Guido Reni. Paris, 2001, p. 152, no. 121, ill.

Gabriele Wimböck. Guido Reni (1575–1642): Funktion und Wirkung des religiösen Bildes. PhD diss., Universität München. Regensburg, 2002, pp. 230–33, 244, 247, 251, 255, 258, colorpl. IX.

Nicola Spinosa. Ribera. Naples, 2003, p. 242 n. 121, ill. p. 204.

Enrique Valdivieso. "Presencia e influencia de las obras foráneas en el devenir del barroco pictórico sevillano." El arte foráneo en España: Presencia e influencia. Ed. Miguel Cabañas Bravo. Madrid, 2005, pp. 202–3, ill.

Elizabeth A. Pergam. "From Manchester to Manhattan: The Transatlantic Art Trade After 1857." Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 87, no. 2 (2005), pp. 86, 91.

Valentina Maderna in Brera mai vista, una mistica visione: l'"Immacolata Concezione" di Bernardo Cavallino. Exh. cat., Pinacoteca di Brera. Milan, 2008, p. 20, agrees with Pérez Sánchez [see Ref. 1992] that this work influenced Ribera's painting of the same subject in Salamanca.

Keith Christiansen in Philippe de Montebello and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1977–2008. New York, 2009, p. 36.

Viviana Farina. Al sole e all'ombra di Ribera: questioni di pittura e disegno a Napoli nella prima metà del Seicento. Vol. 1, Castellammare di Stabia, 2014, pp. 91, 228 n. 210, fig. 105 (color).

Jesse M. Locker. Artemisia Gentileschi: The Language of Painting. New Haven, 2015, p. 36, fig. 1.19 (color).

Keith Christiansen. "La création tardive d'une collection de peintures baroques au Metropolitan Museum of Art / Creating a Baroque Collection at the Metropolitan Late in the Game." Aux origines d'un goût: la peinture baroque aux États-Unis / Creating the Taste for Baroque Painting in America. Paris, 2015, pp. 64, 70, fig. 2 (color, gallery installation).

A copy of this picture hangs in the cathedral at Seville.

Another version of this subject by Reni is in the church of San Biagio, Forlì. Hibbard (1969) dates the Forlì picture about 1623; Pepper (1984) dates it 1628–29. An Assumption of the Virgin by Reni, placed on the high altar of the parish church of Castelfranco Emilia in May 1627, is also very similar in composition. Versions of the Castelfranco Emilia work are in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyons, and the Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Two drawings by Reni are related to the head of the Virgin: Uffizi, Florence (no. 1577; ill. in Mazza 1988, p. XXXIII), and Royal Library, Windsor Castle (ill. in Otto Kurz, Bolognese Drawings of the XVII & XVIII Centuries in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, London, 1955, pp. 119–20, no. 350, fig. 66; it is called here a study for the Forlì painting).

An engraving of the Virgin's head and hands is in the MMA Print Department (Charles Le Blanc, Manuel de l'amateur d'estampes, Paris, 1854–88, vol. 3, p. 220, no. 16).

Engraved by W. H. Watt.
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