the Education of the Virgin
Painter: Alonso Cano
Date Created: 1601 - 1667
Description: Oil on canvas
Exhibition: Madrid, Spain
The subject of the Education of the Virgin originated in
medieval accounts of the childhood of the Virgin. It was subsequently
developed during the Counter-Reformation period in the late 16th century at a time when the role of women in the indoctrination of
their children was emphasised in order to combat Protestantism.
Cano depicts a simple scene limited to the two figures, the Virgin and Saint Anne, in a majestic architectural setting with a
column in the background and a large red curtain, symbol of the royalty of Mary. The elegant, Renaissance style balustrade of
wrought iron and gilt bronze terminates on the right with a pilaster topped by a large ball of red jasper. The figures of the
mother and child, depicted with grave, meditative expressions, are located on a rug with an Arabic pattern.
The red and yellow tones of Saint Anne’s dress contrast with those of the Virgin, who is dressed in blue and white, the colours of
the Immaculate Conception, even though this concept was not pronounced dogma until 1854. The canvas dates from Cano’s final period
in Granada, around 1655, although the delicacy of the brushstrokes and the tonal contrasts recall his years in Madrid when he was
associated with Velázquez.
The concepts of meditation and prayer are conveyed through the gestures of the hands. Saint Anne merely indicates the pages while
the Virgin firmly places her hand on them as if not needing to read the text given that she already knows and accepts it. Her
thoughtful, self-aware gaze rests on the viewer, conveying the idea that she has already accepted her destiny.
Cano’s painting transmits a silent, intimate mood while the young Mary’s resolute expression may indicate that this was a work
intended for a community of nuns and was intended to encourage the vocation of the young novices.