This portrait-shaped oil painting is just under two metres tall and represents one of Peter Paul Rubens' finest religious-themed artworks. This Flemish master was one of the true spearheads of the Baroque movement of the 17th century.
The provenance of The Immaculate Conception is predominantly based in Spain, having had its ownership passed along several times since Rubens first completed it. It now looks likely to remain in the Museo del Prado for some time to come, however, due to the signficance of this impressive art museum and the extensive collection that it now possesses.
The connection between this painting and its consistent ownership in Spain is explained by the fact that Rubens painted it whilst living in Spain. It eventually found its way to the Prado Museum in 1837 where it has remained ever since. On the way it passed through the likes of the Marquis of Leganés, Felipe IV and the Monastery of El Escorial.
The extraordinary collection in the Museo del Prado in Madrid also includes the likes of Las Meninas, a Self-Portrait by Albrecht Durer, The Garden of Earthly Delights and Rubens' own Three Graces. It has become amongst the finest art galleries or museums in the world.
The Immaculate Conception refers to the creation of the Virgin Mary, not Christ as some incorrectly assume. Her purity is provided by God, in preparation for the arrival of his son, Jesus Christ. This powerful scene holds great significance to Christians around the world and its emotive atmosphere makes it an ideal choice as artistic inspiration.
The theme of the Immaculate Conception has been used in art predominantly by Italian and Hispanic artists, perhaps due to these region's strong connections to the Christian Faith. They were also inevitably more frequent during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, when religion dominated society and much of the art within that.
The most famous to have taken on this topic include di Cosimo, Rubens, Zurbarán, Carlo Maratta and Juan Antonio Escalante. Murillo revisted it frequently, producing artworks in 1650, 1660 and 1678. There were also related artworks completed in Spain by El Greco and Diego Velázquez.