Daniel Doyle’s Immaculate Conception

Published in Issue 5 (September/October 2015), Letters, Volume 23

Sir,—Laurence Fenton’s article (Artefacts, HI 23.4, July/Aug. 2015) featured the engraving of the Immaculate Conception sent by William Smith O’Brien from Brussels in 1855 to Daniel Doyle. The print was not identified but it is a simplified version of a work now known as The Immaculate Conception of Los Venerables, or of Soult, painted in 1678 by the Sevillian artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and now in the Prado, Madrid. The engraver has omitted the numerous putti and clouds to be seen in the original, thus giving the image a clearer concentration on the gesture and expression of the figure. That this print was sent in 1855 is no coincidence. It was then one of the most admired paintings in Europe and its fame was boosted by the circulation of such engravings. In 1852 it was bought by the French state for the Louvre for £23,440, an astronomical price that made headlines across Europe (e.g. Freeman’s Journal, 24 May 1852) and brought much attention. Having once been in the Hospital of Los Venerables Sacerdotes, Seville, the painting was looted from Spain in 1813 by Marshal Soult of France. It was returned to Spain in 1941, when it was swapped for a portrait by Velázquez. The choice of print sent in 1855 clearly has a religious dimension too, not least because in 1854 the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had been made dogma, although it was a belief that had an especial appeal to Irish popular piety long before then. The print sent to Doyle raises questions about the taste in Ireland for Murillo, which was notable by the 1850s, but two examples may suffice. Suppliers of religious goods carried in their stock various reproductions, including one who advertised ‘Select Oil Paintings for Altar Pieces, from the Originals of Raphael, Reubens and Murillo’. In 1853 Joseph Patrick Haverty exhibited his ‘full-size’ copy of the Soult Immaculate Conception for a few weeks in the nave of the church of St Francis Xavier in Gardiner Street, Dublin, ‘to allow its effect to be observed’. It was hoped that it would find a permanent home there, or in a another Dublin church, ‘where good pictures are … not very abundant’ (Freeman’s Journal, 26 April, 14 and 17 November 1853). Its present whereabouts are not known.—Yours etc.,

Trinity College, Dublin


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