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The Coronation of the Virgin, c. 1515

Gerard David

Netherlandish, c.1460-1523
Oil on panel
27-7/8 x 21-1/4 in. (70.8 x 54 cm)
The Norton Simon Foundation
F.1965.1.017.P
© 2012 The Norton Simon Foundation

On view

The subject paraphrases the description of the Woman of the Apocalypse in Revelations 12:1: “A woman adorned with the sun, standing on the moon with twelve stars on her head for a crown." The sumptuous, if archaic, gold background refers to the celestial radiance of the sun. Two angels hold a crown above Mary's head, signifying her position as Queen of Heaven. The crescent moon (chastity), the white rose (purity) and her costume all allude to the Immaculate Conception, the doctrine that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. Gerard David based his image of Mary of the Heavens on a lost Deipara Virgo (Virgin Immaculate) painting by the Flemish master Hugo van der Goes, but infuses his composition with generous, atmospheric lighting and sfumato, balanced modeling, delicate coloring, and a refined, draftsman-like quality of the faces, all of which are characteristic of his late style. Technical analysis has revealed that David sketched a highly finished underdrawing on the panel before he undertook the painting of the composition.

In Bruges, by the second half of the fifteenth century, the theme of the Immaculate Conception was increasingly popular, especially after 1476, when Pope Sixtus IV decreed it a feast day on the church calendar, promising indulgences to anyone who prayed to the image. David fortifies the idea of the Immaculate Mary as intercessor by depicting her in a heavenly zone above four supplicants. The artist’s gift as a portraitist is admirably realized here in these four male figures, which have variously been identified as prophets, the four Doctors of the Church or the four Evangelists. All are undoubtedly based on portraits of living men. The young man on the left may well depict John the Evangelist, who is generally credited with being the author of Revelations.

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