The Virgin of Hope

Pulse para ampliar La Virgen de la Esperanza (Segunda mitad del siglo XV)

Master of Perea [Attributed]

  • DE00045
  • Second half of the 15th century
  • Tempera on wooden panel

The theme represented in this painting is that of the Virgin of Hope. The iconography of this Marian devotion, like that of the Immaculate Conception, came from the vision described by Saint John the Evangelist of the Apocalyptic Woman. According to some historians, it has its origins in Eastern iconography. The representation of the Virgin awaiting childbirth is known variously as Our Lady of Hope, Our Lady of the Expectation or Our Lady of the O. The origins of this latter appellation are unclear; it may correspond to the oval shape of the womb during gestation, or to the fact that in the week preceding Christmas, the antiphons sung in the daily offices begin with the letter O. It became popular during the late Middle Ages with the institution of the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrated on 18 December.

In this case, the Virgin appears expectant; she is seated, and the sun’s rays on her belly provide a clear allusion to her pregnancy. As Manuel Crespo Hellín has pointed out, the motif of the Virgin’s gestation in figurative art is referred to by various names: the Virgen de la Esperanza in Spain, Madonna del Parto in Italy, Notre-Dame des Avents in France, and in other countries, Maria Gravida. All of these formally reflect the motif of motherhood expressed in a wide variety of iconographic contexts. Art historians of the 19th century did not welcome this type of representation, as it was considered a “naïve” and improper use of a sacred subject.