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Work Two studies for Madonna of the Rosary

Department of Prints and Drawings: 17th century

Deux études pour la 'Madone du Rosaire'

Prints and Drawings
17th century

Grollemund Hélène

Alonso Cano occupies a unique place in Spanish art. The sculptor and painter pursued the tradition of the multitalented humanist artist of the Renaissance, drawing every day and using virtually all the graphic media of his time - although his preference was for the pen, as in these two studies. Unique in Cano's oeuvre, this page may be considered his graphic testament.

A late drawing

While considerably different from the painting in the chapel of the Rosary in Malaga Cathedral, the larger of these two images is a preparation for the Madonna and Child Surrounded by Angels group in the upper part of the Madonna of the Rosary. The painting dates from 1665-66, when Cano was in Malaga after leaving Grenada for good. Entirely by Cano's own hand, this large work was commissioned by Don Alonso de Santo Tomas, the new bishop of Malaga. Painted a year before the artist's death, it is a major work. The upper drawing has points in common with the face of the Madonna - the same geometrical oval - and with the Child, indicating a contemporary work. This much more classical composition, with a curtain in the background, could be an initial idea for the Madonna of the Rosary group. However, its virtuosity and precision of line suggest another painting, commissioned at the same time by a local collector.

Concision of style

Cano frames his compositions with a view to their transposition onto canvas. From the very first strokes he creates his overall movement with the same easy grace, the same sense of balance as in his paintings and sculptures, and in the drawings executed since his great Madrid period. The painted version has retained the original idea, with each detail and each figure in its chosen place. In this last year of his life Cano transformed drawing into an autonomous art form, bringing to bear an ever greater concision already evident in such a masterpiece as St. Claire and St. Louis of Toulouse (Louvre, RF43241). Right up until this last drawing Cano remained faithful to rigorous balance, while using a range of techniques. Here he returns to the fine, close hatching of his St. John the Baptist (Louvre, RF43243).

Venice and Titian

Excluding wash from his pen drawings, Cano worked in the Venetian spirit and may have seen the Venetian Renaissance drawings in Philip IV's collection in the Alcazar. In the upper Madonna is the memory, first-hand or based on an engraving, or workshop copy of the Virgin and Child with St. John the Baptist and St. Agnes (Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts) attributed to Titian. Cano often used engravings and drawings by other artists as models for different compositions, and two engravings by Simone Cantarini were probably used for the Louvre drawing. This approach, drawing on and reinterpreting a range of models, reflects the level of mastery he had achieved over the preceding decade, with the Virgin's face bearing the same expression of inwardness and serenity.


L. Boubli, Inventaire général des dessins: Ecole espagnole XVIe-XVIIIe siècle, RMN, 2002, pp. 60-65

Technical description

  • Alonso Cano (Grenada, 1601-Grenada, 1667)

    Two studies for Madonna of the Rosary

    c. 1665-66

  • Pen and sepia ink on thick beige paper; pen-drawn frame

    H. 14.7 cm; W. 7.5 cm

  • Collection of Adolphe Stein; purchased 1992

    RF 43242

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Later annotation in pen and sepia ink, lower left: Cano f.