1559. Oil on panel, 225 x 146 cm.
The Museo del Prado's collections include an important group of paintings by Juan de Correa de Vivar, an artist based in Toledo who must have been born at the beginning of the 16th century in the town of Mascaraque and died in the Imperial City in 1566. In total, these are nearly forty works from the former Museo Nacional de la Trinidad. Like many other 16th-century Spanish religious painters, Correa de Vivar stood out for his meticulously painted works for altarpieces, structures of various types whose narrative and stylistic contents were adapted to the overall perception of the group.
In this scene from the New Testament (Luke I, 28-36), the Archangel Gabriel informs Mary of her pregnancy in the presence of God-the-Father and the Holy Ghost, who appears in the form of a dove. Mary's virginity and purity are symbolized by a spray of white lilies in the foreground, while the book lying open on the table shows the burning bush that appeared to Moses on Mount Tabor and was never consumed by the flames. This was the central panel of the altarpiece whose other two doors are also at the Museo del Prado: Saint Stephen/The Imposition of the Chasuble on saint Ildephonse and Saint Laurence/Saint Hilary.
This altar was commissioned by the community of the Order of Saint Jerome for the monastery at Guisando in Avila, where it was already documented in 1559. At the time, Correa de Vivar was deeply involved in mannerism, with a very carefully crafted production that draws on Italian prints. That explains the similarity of his figures, architectural elements and compositional notes to the work of Raphael. The three separate panels now considered part of that altarpiece -The Annunciation, Saint Stephen/The Imposition of the Chasuble on saint Ildephonse and Saint Laurence/Saint Hilary- arrived at the Museo de la Trinidad with no reference to their author or provenance. The Annunciation was ignored at the Museo del Prado until 1945, when Sánchez Cantón ascribed it, with some doubt, to correa. He also thought it might be by Comones. Somewhat later, Post, Ángulo and Camón Aznar definitively reaffirmed the attribution to Correa de Vivar. In 1982, The Annunciation and the two panels with the holy deacons (Saint Stephen and Saint Laurence) were exhibited together, forming a triptych of the sort that Correa had made for the monastery at Guisando. Later, the three works were hung together as part of the Museo del Prado's permanent exhibition. X-rays and infra-red reflectography of the three panels show small rectifications to properly fit the three elements into the compositions. The x-ray of the central panel, The Annunciation, has revealed the painter's peculiar manner of scoring the panels once their corresponding boards "five in all" were joined. He thus generated a rhomboidal grid of cuts. The other interesting aspect is his careful drawing, which is very visible in the reflectography of the holy deacons. Correa initially drew them on the panels in very light brushstrokes, delineating the contours over what was probably an initial pencil drawing. Afterwards, he specified the main volumes by applying very diluted pigments in a sort of wash over which he again established the profiles of the initial contours in darker colors. On a more superficial layer, he loaded the brush with more pigment to make some of the decorative motives. We cannot be certain that Joan Correa de Vivar faithfully met his deadlines for this altarpiece, nor do we know how much he was eventually paid for what is certainly one of his finest artworks and a very notable piece from the Spanish Renaissance. It does seem necessary, however, to recover the formal typology of this group, which was forever dismantled at the time of the Disentailment (Text drawn from Ruiz, L.: "El Retablo de la Anunciación de Juan Correa de Vivar", Boletín del Museo del Prado, vol. XII, no. 40, 2004, pp. 6-19).