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Focus-Abengoa Foundation adds "La Inmaculada" to the permanent collection of the "Velázquez Centre". The work is attributed to Velázquez by Jonathan Brown and to Alonso Cano by Pérez Sánchez, and is a genuine "unicum" in the context of the painting of the era thanks to its extraordinary quality

February 11, 2009

Today the Focus-Abengoa Foundation presents La Inmaculada, attributed to Alonso Cano by Professor Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, and to Diego de Velázquez by Professor Jonathan Brown, due to arrive in Seville over the next few days. The work will be incorporated into the Velázquez Centre. The terms of the agreement are confidential, although in the long term the painting is guaranteed to stay in Seville. The Focus-Abengoa Foundation would therefore like to point out that the price that has been published in various parts of the media is incorrect, higher and very different to the real price.

The first news about La Inmaculada prior to it appearing on the London art market on 6 July 1994 comes four years earlier when it appeared in the hands of the auctioneers Ader Picard Tajan on 22 June 1990 at an auction held in the George V hotel in Paris. The work in question appeared in public for the first time as lot number 28, entitled Entourage de Diego Velázquez: L'Inmmaculé Conception, Canvas, 142 x 98.5 cm. It was reported to have been acquired in 1870 in the Hotel Drouot by the family of the existing owners, who were descendents of a Napoleonic soldier. The guide price for work was 300,000 to 400,000 French Francs. In the end, the bidding achieved spectacular levels, reaching 18 million Francs, transcending the news even years later, featuring in The New York Times of 1 July 1994 in the article by Carol Vogel entitled Banking on a possible Velazquez.

The work was acquired by the French dealer Charles Bailly. After several years of study and restoration by Zahira Véliz, including a spell at the Louvre where it was seen by Pérez Sánchez along with the then director Pierre Rosenberg, its acquisition was eventually rejected by the Paris museum due to the doubts about who it should be attributed to. The oil finally appeared at Sotheby's in London on 6 July 1994 as lot number 64. It was definitively listed in the sales catalogue as a work by Velázquez in his Seville period, although the estimate for the painting was not published and nor was it disclosed that it had a reserve price.

From the moment the catalogue was published, the press reported a series of statements from different experts agreeing or disagreeing with the accreditation to Velázquez. The most authoritative of them to refute this was Professor Alfonso E. Pérez Sánchez, who acknowledged the significance of the work, but who was convinced that it should be attributed to the artist Alonso Cano, a fellow student of Velázquez.

In statements to the El País newspaper on 9 June 1994 he said, "Velázquez and Cano were disciples of Pacheco at the same time in Seville and this work undoubtedly comes from this school in this period. The two young painters shared everything, even the same paint pots and brushes. But I am convinced that this Immaculate Conception was painted by Cano because it closely resembles the other Immaculate Conceptions painted by Cano throughout his life, in terms of the figure, the composition and the colouring, including his sculptures on the same theme, and more so than those done by Velázquez". Years later these statements would be elaborated on by the author in the scientific article, Novedades Velázquez in the Archivo Español de Arte, 288, 1999, pp. 386-390, fig. 13, in which he explained his reasons for attributing the work to Alonso Cano.

On the other hand, Professor Jonathan Brown was inclined to believe that the original artist was a young Velázquez, painted in Seville in his training years between 1616 and 1618, saying: "This is a genuine Velázquez work and I do not see Alonso Cano" in statements to El País on 9 June 1994. Professor Brown has never scientifically published his conclusions about this opinion. For his part, Pérez Sánchez has always acknowledged the significance of the painting, regardless of who it is attributed to, saying, "This is a painting that could interest the Prado because it represents the workings between two eras and two key artists in Spanish painting".

In the end, the painting did not sell at the London auction, unable to reach the owner's reserve price. The highest bid was four million pounds.

Given the importance of the work and its quality, as well as the arguments of several art historians, La Inmaculada undoubtedly falls within the remit of the Velázquez Centre. The reasons are the following:

  • It is a unique example within the context of Seville painting at the time.
  • It was painted in Seville between 1618 and 1620, within the scope of Francisco Pacheco and at the heart of the debate about the Immaculate Conception, taking into account the outstanding example by Velázquez in the National Gallery in London.
  • Its unquestionable connection with Velázquez in the use of pigments and technique.
  • The lack of representative works by Alonso Cano from this date.
  • As a testament to the interaction between painting and sculpture, by corroborating the influence of sculpture at that time by Juan Martínez Montañés and Alonso Cano, on the painting.

In 1997 Pérez Sánchez argued his claim that it was a key work in the training of Cano and Velázquez with Pacheco in Seville regarding the treatment of figures - staunchly vertical in Velázquez's case, and noticeably spindle-shaped by Cano - through the use of clothing and the arrangement of the hands that is prevalent through his career and that, curiously, draws parallels with Francisco de Herrera "the elder", who used similar figures in one of his Inmaculadas Concepciones.

In terms of the provenance of the work, it probably comes from the collection of the Dean of Seville Cathedral, López Cepero (1778-1858), whose collection included two works by Velázquez, El cuadro de la casulla, and number 172, La Concepción, de Velázquez, which is not the painting in London's National Gallery, from the Carmen Calzado, since it had already been sold years earlier in 1809-1810 together with the San Juan en Patmos to Bartholomew Frere, plenipotentiary minister of England.

It is very feasible that the inventory of Dean López Cepero refers to the painting acquired now, rescued for the city in which it was painted. In support of this theory we know that at a later date these two works, which will now be reunited in the Velázquez Centre, were once again paired up in the descriptions and valuations of the Dean's paintings: "118 'A painting two rods high and one and a half rods wide, original from the life of Velázquez, deteriorated in condition, representing Our Lady with a choir of virgins giving the chasuble to St. Ildefonso. 19,000 Reales'" with nº 119 "A Conception of the same size, with little difference and by the same artist, in good condition.10,000 Reales".

This is the root of the importance and significance of its incorporation into the Velázquez Centre; its unquestionable Seville provenance and the lack of reference elements from this fundamental period in the history of European painting.

Benito Navarrete Prieto.

Scientific Adviser of the Velázquez Centre.

NP Inmaculada
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