Juan de Borgoña
(act. 1495–c. 1534)
Tempera and oil on panel
98 1/4 x 81 3/4 in. (249.6 x 207.6 cm)
Meadows Museum, SMU, Dallas. Algur H. Meadows Collection, MM.69.03
Hear a reading of the object label (1:23 minutes)
Juan de Borgoña is believed to be of northern European origin as his name means “John of Burgundy.” However, his technique suggests that he studied in Italy. Despite his international background, the painter was active primarily in Spain, working in Toledo for the Archbishop Francisco Ximénez de Cisneros. Borgoña’s association with this patron may be reflected here, since the kneeling Ildefonsus bears a strong resemblance to known portraits of Cisneros himself. Borgoña’s style blends the rich primary hues reminiscent of Northern traditions with a monumental classicism assimilated during his travels in Italy. The elaborately patterned gilding that enriches the Virgin’s cloth of honor and the vestment worn by the archbishop have an undeniably Spanish quality and echoes luxurious contemporary ecclesiastical textiles. A Visigothic saint, Saint Ildefonsus was a seventh-century archbishop of Toledo who was especially venerated in Spain for his devotion to the Virgin Mary. In fact, he was a remarkably early proponent of her immaculacy, believing that she was, like Christ, born without original sin. Ildefonsus’ piety ultimately was rewarded by a miraculous visitation in which the Virgin herself bestowed upon him a golden chasuble, or bishop’s robe, and that is the scene depicted here.
This painting is approximately eight feet tall by six feet wide. The subject of this work is a ceremony showing a woman seated at center surrounded by attendants. The woman (the Virgin Mary) is seated on a on an elaborate stone throne with an arched canopy. She is dressed in blue and wears a crown and golden halo. Behind the throne is a rectangular area covered in gold and signifying her importance. She looks down to her right as she places a gold vestment over a man who kneels before her with his head bowed and his hands held together in prayer.
The man (Saint Ildefonsus) is seen in profile. He has a monk’s tonsure (haircut) and is dressed in a gold robe decorated with stylized floral patterns in red and black. The woman and man are surrounded by attendants. Four attendants dressed in colorful garments stand to their right. One of them helps to cover the man with the golden vestment while another holds a Catholic Bishop’s mitre (hat). To the left of the enthroned woman stands a group of five other attendants. One attendant holds a sword pointed to the ground and another in front of her holds a palm branch (a symbol of martyrdom).
The scene takes place in an architectural setting that opens to the outdoors. Stone columns with elaborate capitals support an octagonal roof over the group of figures, which all stand on a floor tiled with geometric patterns. The blue sky of the background appears between the columns and through an opening in the roof. The architectural elements employ geometric perspective, giving the illusion of spatial recession.