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Overview

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.

Inscription

lower center, beneath hand of Saint Peter: BALDS LEA (BAL in ligature)

Provenance

Removed to Alcázar, Seville in 1810, following French occupation of the city.[1] Marquise de Landolfo Carcano [1872-1912], Paris; (her sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May-1 June 1912, no. 174); Dr. Carvalho,[2] Château Villandry, near Tours. (Rosenberg & Stiebel, New York), after 1950;[3] sold 8 February 1955 to The Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;[4] gift 1961 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1913
Grafton Galleries, London, 1913-1914, no. 102, pl. 48.
1925
Exposition d'Art Espagnol, Hôtel Charpentier, Paris, 1925, no. 100.
1982
Painting in Spain 1650-1700, The Art Museum, Princeton University; The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1982, 106-108, no. 43, pl. 43.
1991
Valdes Leal, Museo de Bellas Artes, Seville, Spain; Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1991, no. 60, repro. 199.
Bibliography
1911
Beruete y Moret, Aureliano. Valdés Leal: Estudio critico. Madrid, 1911.
1914
Beruete y Moret, Aureliano. "Une Exposition d'anciens maîtres espagnols à Londres." Revue de l'Art Ancien et Moderne 35 (1914): 73, repro. 71.
1916
Gestoso y Pérez, José. Biografía del pintor sevillano, Juan de Valdés Leal. Seville, 1916: 208.
1923
Lafond, Paul. Juan de Valdés Leal. Paris, 1923: 92-93.
1926
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.
1926
Milward, Jo. "The Carvalho Collection of Spanish Art." International Studio 84 (August, 1926): 13-24, 92, repro. 21.
1939
Mather, Frank J. Western European Paintings of the Renaissance. New York, 1939: 661.
1942
Mayer, August L. Historia de la pintura española. Madrid, 1942: 374.
1950
Nieto, Benedicto. La Asunción de la Virgen en el arte. Madrid, 1950: 158.
1956
Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Colllection 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.
1959
Kubler, George, and Martin Soria. Art and Architecture in Spain and Portugal and Their American Dominions 1500-1800. Baltimore, 1959: 294.
1959
Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 273, repro.
1960
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.
1960
Trapier, Elizabeth Du Gué. Valdés Leal: Spanish Baroque Painter. New York, 1960: 48.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 88, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 309, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 134
1966
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.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 121, repro.
1971
Angulo Iñiguez, Diego. Pintura del siglo XVII. Ars Hispaniae 15. Madrid, 1971: 383.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 358, repro.
1977
Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 222-223, fig. 217.
1978
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.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 247, no 310, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 417, repro.
1988
Valdivieso, Enrique. Juan de Valdés Leal. Seville, 1988: 145, 252, no. 122, pl. 113.
1990
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.
1991
Valdes Leal. Exh. cat. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain, 1991: no. 60, 198, repro. 199.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 88, repro. (not in 1995 rev. ed.).
Technical Summary

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.