The great masterpiece of the late manner of the artist, painted for the High Altar of the Chapel of Oballe, San Vicente, Toledo, begun 1607, finished 1613. The painting certainly represents the Immaculate Conception, although it has often been referred to as an Assumption. The various attributes of the Virgin (roses, lilies, mirror, fountain of clear water) proper to the representation of the Mystery, appear at the foot of the painting on the right. A view of Toledo appears on the left. The spiritual excitement of the scene is reflected in meteorological effects: sun and moon shine simultaneously while explosions of light burst through the clouds like fire.
El Greco took the distinctive characteristics of his late style to their extreme conclusion in this work. Ordered scale and proportion, spatial recession and anatomical accuracy have been subordinated to imperatives of visionary experience. Colours are unblended, forms have become dematerialised, the logic of gravity and shadows is subverted; the distinctions between near and far, open and enclosed, physical and spiritual, are all dissolved. At the same time, however, El Greco has included a passage of naturalistic still-life that seems to belong to the earthly realm - the roses and lilies at lower right, traditional emblems of the Virgin. Their inclusion intensifies the visual transition from the earthly to the mystical.
The painting is the grand culmination of Greco's career. No artist has been able to express so convincingly the infinite: an infinity of colour and light, an infinity of movement and of space. This expression of the spiritual reality of the universe was only possible to attain by the uncompromising disengagement of his art from the material and transitory of this World. The earth, symbolized by Toledo, is already a phantom. From the burst of rose and white flowers at the base, a great upsurge of movement - of colour and light, in constant flux - commences, and increases in its rapture, and met by the light of the Dove, becomes all-pervading and infinite. It is perhaps the most remarkable realisation of spiritual ecstasy in painting, and one of the greatest masterpieces of colour. A single detail - the offering of flowers, the opening of a wing, the Virgin's mantle transfigured by light - is a moving experience in itself.
The painting formerly belonged to Cardinal Del Monte, one of the artist's patrons.
Here we see a single female figure in an interior devoid of architectural allusions. The image appears with a boldness and an immediacy that combine the nobility of the subject (St Catherine was a king's daughter) with the almost plebeian pride of the model (no doubt a Roman woman of the people, who appears on other paintings of the artist, too). The breadth of conception and realization, and the perfect mastery of a very difficult composition (the figure and objects completely fill the painting, in a subtle play of diagonals) are striking. Caravaggio here chose a "grand" noble approach that heralds the great religious compositions he would soon do for San Luigi dei Francesi. The extraordinary virtuosity in the painting of the large, decorated cloth is absorbed as an integral part of the composition. This is something his followers would not often succeed in doing, for they frequently dealt with the single components of the painting individually, with adverse effects on the unity of the whole.
Certainly, it was not the rather heavy features of the Medici family, particularly evident in the queen, that had attracted Henri IV, but the scale of her dowry. Rubens nevertheless contrived to render her portrait agreeable. He disguised her now as an attractive Bellona, now as a proud horsewoman in The Capture of Juliers. The royal couple become Olympian deities in The Meeting of Marie de Médicis and Henri IV at Lyon, while The Fates Spinning Marie's Destiny and The Triumph of Truth became pretexts for a proliferation of female convexity.
John Constable's father was a wealthy Suffolk miller. Constable's truthfulness to nature and devotion to his native scene have passed into legend. Less widely known, however, is his biographer's report that it was seeing Claude's Hagar and the Angel (now in the National Galleery, London) and watercolours by Girtin which first provided him with 'pictures that he could rely on as guides to the study of nature'. Ruisdael, Rubens, Wilson and Annibale Carracci were among other 'reliable guides' whose work he copied as a young man. He also learned from contemporary painters, never forgetting the advice given him by Benjamin West, the President of the Royal Academy: 'Always remember, sir, that light and shadow never stand still...in your skies... always aim at brightness...even in the darkest effects...your darks should look like the darks of silver, not of lead or of slate.'
Constable's youthful exclamation, 'There is room enough for a natural painture [i.e. style of painting]', must be understood not as the outpouring of a 'natural painter' but as the proclamation of an aspiring student struggling for proficiency in the language of art, which shaped his deepest feelings before he could give expression to them.
The Hay-Wain, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1821 and at the British Institution in 1822 under the title Landscape: Noon, was one of the big 'six-footers' on which Constable worked in the winters in London from sketches and studies made in the country in summer. The harvest wagon of the modern title was copied from a drawing made by John Dunthorne, Constable's childhood friend and assistant, and sent at Constable's request from Suffolk. The view is of farmer Willy Lott's cottage on a mill stream of the River Stour near Flatford Mill, of which Constable's father had the tenancy. A full-scale sketch for the picture is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. In this final version Constable omitted a figure on horseback at the edge of the stream, substituting a barrel which he later painted out (but which is beginning to show through).
In thus 'selecting and combining' from 'some of the forms and evanescent effects of nature' Constable sought an 'unaffected truth of expression' without the loss of poetry. He laboured 'almost fainting by the way' to preserve the sparkle of sketches in these large paintings worked over for many months in the studio. The Hay-Wain, that best-loved icon of the English countryside, was admired by Constable's closest friends but did not meet with success at the London exhibitions. He sold it in 1823 with two other pictures to an Anglo-French dealer who exhibited them in the 1824 Salon in Paris. There at last Constable's achievement was understood. A cast of the gold medal awarded to Constable by King Charles X of France is incorporated in the picture's frame.