Pious and cautious by nature, and living in a period when the activities of the Inquisition were to be feared, Murillo, in the painting of religious subjects, sought and followed minutely the instructions of the authorities. His religious symbolism is the approved orthodox symbolism of his day. The details of this version of “The Immaculate Conception” are based on the verses in the Book of Revelation: “And there appeared a great sign in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars.” The crown of stars, it will be noted, is omitted.
Of Murillo’s versions of this subject, “The Immaculate Conception” in the Louvre is the most popular. His Madonnas were new to Spanish art; they were Andalusians “idealized” (that’s the accepted term) or sentimentalized to a degree that was new in the sacred art of his country. Yet, though his world-wide reputation rests mainly upon these devotional pictures, he is perhaps to be more fairly judged by his paintings of beggars and peasants. Many of these are in the United States.