The mystery of Mary's physical ascent into heaven was a favorite theme during the Counter-Reformation, when the Catholic church was reaffirming its devotion to the Virgin. In its sensuous beauty and dramatic appeal, Juan de Valdés Leal's depiction characterizes the baroque style at its most operatic.
Amidst spiraling forms, swirling draperies, and extravagant gestures, the figure of Mary, arms outstretched, is borne aloft on the wings of a robust group of angels, while a choir of less corporeal angels makes music in the background. The excitement of the supernatural event is sustained by the varied poses and dramatic gestures of the animated figures gathered around the tomb below. Saint Paul, closest to us, shields his eyes against the radiant light.
Utilizing a popular device of baroque painting, Valdés Leal placed the monumental figures of two of the apostles in the foreground to lead the eye into the composition and to establish a sense of scale. In this instance, their position also serves to create the impression that, like the viewer, they have just come upon the scene from a point outside the picture space.
Renowned for his vivacious brushwork, Valdés Leal was also a superb colorist, whose pale but vibrant palette anticipated the decorative tones of the rococo style of the eighteenth century.
More information on this painting can be found in the Gallery publication Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries, which is available as a free PDF https://www.nga.gov/content/dam/ngaweb/research/publications/pdfs/spanish-painting-15th-19th-centuries.pdf
lower center, beneath hand of Saint Peter: BALDS LEA (BAL in ligature)
Removed to Alcázar, Seville in 1810, following French occupation of the city. Marquise de Landolfo Carcano [1872-1912], Paris; (her sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May-1 June 1912, no. 174); Dr. Carvalho, Château Villandry, near Tours. (Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York), after 1950; sold 8 February 1955 to The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1961 to NGA.
- Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-1914, no. 102, pl. 48.
- Exposition d'Art Espagnol, Hôtel Charpentier, Paris, 1925, no. 100.
- Painting in Spain 1650-1700, The Art Museum, Princeton University; The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1982, 106-108, no. 43, pl. 43.
- Valdes Leal, Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville, Spain; Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1991, no. 60, repro. 199.
The painting is executed on a compound twill-weave canvas with a diamond pattern and is lined on a medium-weight, plain-weave fabric. The ground is a warm, off-white color over which the paint is thinly applied, with some slight impasto in the highlights. The paint layer has suffered overall abrasion and has been extensively inpainted in the abraded areas. There are larger and more serious losses in the head of the angel at the right, in the sky, in the blue robe of the figure at the bottom, and in the mouth of the putto at the right. There is also inpainting around all four edges approximately 1/2 in. in from the edge. The varnish is uneven and has a milky appearance. Pentimenti are found around the left sleeve of the Virgin, the right foot of the angel at the left carrying the Virgin, and at the right index finger of the male figure shading his eyes at the bottom.
- Beruete y Moret, Aureliano. Valdés Leal: Estudio critico. Madrid, 1911.
- Beruete y Moret, Aureliano. "Une Exposition d'anciens maîtres espagnols à Londres." Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne 35 (1914): 73, repro. 71.
- Gestoso y Pérez, José. Biografía del pintor sevillano, Juan de Valdés Leal. Seville, 1916: 208.
- Lafond, Paul. Juan de Valdés Leal. Paris, 1923: 92-93.
- Benesch, Otto. "Seicentostudien." Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen des allerhöchsten Kaiserhauses (Jahrbuch der kunsthistorischen Sammlungen in Wien) n.s., 1 (1926): 259-268. Reprinted in Collected Writings. 2 vols. New York, 1971: 2:174-180.
- Milward, Jo. "The Carvalho Collection of Spanish Art." International Studio 84 (August, 1926): 13-24, 92, repro. 21.
- Mather, Frank J. Western European Paintings of the Renaissance. New York, 1939: 661.
- Mayer, August L. Historia de la pintura española. Madrid, 1942: 374.
- Nieto, Benedicto. La Asunción de la Virgen en el arte. Madrid, 1950: 158.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection Acquired by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation 1951-56. Introduction by John Walker, text by William E. Suida and Fern Rusk Shapley. National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1956: 188, no. 74, repro.
- Kubler, George, and Martin Soria. Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions 1500-1800. Baltimore, 1959: 294.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 273, repro.
- Evans, Grose. Spanish Painting in the National Gallery of Art. Washington, D.C., 1960 (Booklet Number Ten in Ten Schools of Painting in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.): 34, color repro.
- Trapier, Elizabeth Du Gué. Valdés Leal: Spanish Baroque Painter. New York, 1960: 48.
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 88, color repro.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 309, repro.
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 134
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 1:214, color repro.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 121, repro.
- Angulo Iñiguez, Diego. Pintura del siglo XVII. Ars Hispaniae 15. Madrid, 1971: 383.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 358, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 222-223, fig. 217.
- Kinkead, Duncan T. Juan de Valdés Leal (1622-1690): His Life and Work. London and New York, 1978: 185-186, 420-422, no. 101, fig. 89.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 247, no 310, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 417, repro.
- Valdivieso, Enrique. Juan de Valdés Leal. Seville, 1988: 145, 252, no. 122, pl. 113.
- Brown, Jonathan, and Richard G. Mann. Spanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1990: 112-115, color repro. 113.
- Valdes Leal. Exh. cat. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1991: no. 60, 198, repro. 199.
- National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 88, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).