Nicolás Enríquez (1704-c.1790)
Nicolás Enríquez (1704-c.1790)

The Assumption of the Virgin

Nicolás Enríquez (1704-c.1790)
The Assumption of the Virgin
Signed and dated 'Nicolaus Enrriquez./Anno dñi. 1744' (on stone, lower right) and inscribed 'MARIA VIRGO ASSUMPTA EST AD AETHEREUM THALAMUM, IN QUO REX REGUM STELLATO SEDET SOLIO,' (on banderole)
oil on copper
41 5/16 x 33 1/16 in. (105 x 84 cm.)
Painted in 1744.
Private collection, Paris by the end of the 19th century.
Anon sale, Sotheby's, New York, 16 November 2004, lot 39.
Private collection, Portugal.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Mexico City, Fomento Cultural Banamex, Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexici, 29 June - 15 October 2017, pp. 186-187, no. 8-11 (illustrated in color). This exhibition also traveled to Los Angeles, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 19 November 2017-18 March 2018; New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 24 April-22 July 2018.

Lot Essay

Believed to be the second in a set of four large copper paintings depicting the life of the Virgin, Nicolás Enríquez’s The Assumption of the Virgin is a tour de force of artistic achievement. Enríquez presents a dynamic composition in which a myriad of exquisitely rendered figures from heaven and earth seamlessly intermingle with one another. At the center of the work, three putti hold a banderole which announces in Latin the scene from the life of the Virgin, “The Virgin Mary is assumed unto the heavenly chamber in which the king of kings sits upon his starry seat.” The Virgin is portrayed as a beautiful young woman, dressed in pure white, ascending into heaven where she is welcomed by Christ, who has stepped down from his throne to greet her, God the Father, Saint Michael and a retinue of admiring putti.

Completed in 1744, The Assumption of the Virgin shows Enríquez at the height of his powers. After studying at the first academy of painters established in Mexico around 1720 by the brothers Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez (1667-1734) and Juan Rodríguez Juárez (1675-1728), Enríquez went on to make a name for himself as an accomplished painter on copper. A practice that originated in sixteenth-century Flanders and Italy, painting on copper became popular in eighteenth-century Mexico as it allowed artists to infuse their work with a jewel-like light, as exemplified by the present lot which appears to glow from within thanks to Enríquez’s smooth application of paint across this unusually large copper plate.

While both the technique of painting on copper and the Christian theme stem from European precedents, Enríquez looked to Mexico’s own artistic past rather than Europe’s for his specific inspiration here. Enríquez’s work is a direct nod to the Afro-Mexican painter Juan Correa’s (c. 1645-1716) grand The Assumption of the Virgin (1689) in Mexico City’s Catedral Metropolitana. By taking Correa’s magnum opus as his point of departure, Enríquez perhaps deliberately sought to assert the significance of Mexican (and not European) painting as a wellspring for artistic creation. [1] Indeed, as the recent exhibition Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexici suggested, “Enríquez’s set of copper paintings may hold wider implications beyond its representational quality and could be considered a self-conscious statement by the artist about the tradition of painting in New Spain.”[2]

In this sense, The Assumption of the Virgin hints at greater agency on the part of the artist. Trained in the Juárez brothers’ school of thought that painting was a noble not mechanical art, Enríquez clearly embraced their philosophy in this group of four paintings. Completed over a span of five years, as the dates on each of the works indicate, the group seems to have been a labor of love for Enríquez rather than the result of a specific commission. As such, the group may have been created for Enríquez himself and his inner circle. This visually arresting group thus takes on a broader significance as the Painted in Mexico exhibition made clear, “Otherwise put, this group of copper paintings may have served as a visual commentary on the creative processes of local painters and their inventive capacity.” [3]

1 Interestingly, two of the paintings from the set of four are based on European examples, while the present work and the first from the group, The Adoration of the Kings, are adaptations of Mexican artworks. The cohesive group may therefore be Enríquez’s declaration that Mexican artists are on par with the European masters.
2 I. Katzew, “The Assumption of the Virgin,” in exhibition catalogue Painted in Mexico, 1700-1790: Pinxit Mexici, Munich, Prestel, 2017, p. 187.
3 Ibid., 186.

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