In 2011 we wrote about then-curator, now-Director Sarah Schroth’s experience with a 400-year-old painting of the Madonna. Fast forward to 2013 and The Virgin Contemplating Instruments of the Passion by Vicente Carducho is back as part of The Human Position: Old Master Works from the Collection.
In this newly-discovered work, Vicente Carducho painted a scene that does not appear in the Bible. Here, we see the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, inside the tomb after Christ’s death. In the New Testament, it is Mary Magdalene who fulfills this role. The artist imagines the reaction of the Mother of God when confronted with the bloodied nails that held her Son on the Cross and the painful crown of thorns He wore. The items are carefully arranged on a pure white cloth and placed on a stone ledge, suggesting the tomb. The Virgin lifts her arms in a gesture signifying surprise, awe, and adoration in recognition of her Son’s intense suffering and death for mankind. Her tears express her agonized sorrow. The dramatic contrast of light and dark enhances the emotional impact—a strong light highlights her hands, lower face, and the still-life of the holy relics in the foreground, while the rest is in half-shadow or complete darkness. This work has been attributed to Vicente Carducho, who was appointed painter to King Philip III of Spain in 1609. Born and trained in Florence, Italy, Carducho came to Spain in 1585 with the second wave of Italian artists imported to decorate the El Escorial, the enormous complex built by Philip II containing a monastery, church, college, library, and the royal palace. Carducho had enormous success in his own day, and he was the artist of choice for commissions in religious houses in and around Madrid. He created a range of paintings, from large altarpieces to smaller devotional works, such as this, which could have been intended for a private convent chapel or a private collector’s oratory.
Vicente Carducho (attributed), The Virgin Contemplating Instruments of the Passion (detail), c. 1620 – 1630. Oil on canvas. 52 3/4 x 43 11/16 inches (134 x 111 cm). Museum purchase with funds provided by the John A. Schwarz III and Anita Eerdmans Schwarz Family Endowment Fund. 2011.2.1. Photo by J Caldwell