Our Lady of Expectation

Sculptor : Alberto Pérez Rojas
Date: 2012
Materials : Gilded cedar wood, tempera and oil polychromed.
Dimensions : 110 cm
Location : Parish Church of La Encarnación (Marbella)

Description of the work

The work is designed and carved in cedar wood by the sculptor and image-maker Juan Alberto Pérez Rojas, a native of the beautiful town of Ronda. Based in Seville, it is in this city where he studied Fine Arts and later expanded his knowledge in the workshop of Professor Juan Manuel Miñarro, a benchmark in the world of sculpture and its restoration.

The work consists of the image of the Virgin Mary on a cloud, while two child-angels fly next to her, forming a homogeneous whole. The whole is smaller than life-size, as it is 110 centimetres high.
The Virgin Mary is a complete carving, that is, round and finished in all its parts, so that it can be correctly contemplated from all points of view, although the preferred view for the public will be from the front, as the image will preside over the manifestor of the parish church of Santa María de la Encarnación in Marbella (Málaga).
The theme chosen for the occasion is the Expectation of the Virgin Mary, that is to say, the expectation of the Nativity or the birth of the Virgin Mary, which is why Mary is represented in an advanced state of gestation, pregnant, on a ribbon. This is not the first time Juan Alberto has painted a Marian theme, but this is the first time he has done so. As for the angels, it should be remembered that our sculptor is a real specialist, as can be seen in his work for private collections and for various brotherhoods in Malaga and its province, in which he has created angels of the mancicle, the Passion, the Cyrenaic and the heads of angels.
The Virgin, as mentioned above, is placed on a cloud, while two child-angels fly beside her. The whole shows a slender canon, with an elegant silhouette, which even reminds us of the mannerism of Mary's long, arched neck. The Virgin is standing and wearing the classic Marian colours: a hyacinth-coloured tunic or dress, a blue mantle and a white-beige headdress. The polychromy and the stew of the garments is brilliant throughout, with prints of plant and floral elements, ribbons and asymmetries that stand out in shades of light blue, green, red, white and gold. It shows a very delicate and slight counterposture advancing the left leg, which is insinuated under the tunic, allowing the foot, worn with sandals, to show through. The tunic is shown with a ribbon or cincture around the waist, which highlights the growing belly of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her left hand rests gently on it in an attempt to feel any movement of the little Jesus. On the other hand, her right arm is stretched out in a hopeful gesture with her hand open as a sign of offering.
The cloak is blue, with an excellent gold border around the perimeter and a light blue lap. It covers the entire right shoulder, leaving the left one clearer, and is gathered at the ends of both arms, developing along the entire back of the image with great skill and a beautiful composition.
The oval of the Virgin's beautiful face is framed by her hair, which in turn is framed by a simple headdress, open and loose, which falls over her shoulders and the back of the image. Mary gently tilts her head to her right, the side on which a long lock of the Virgin's dark hair falls forward. Her hair is parted in the middle, leaving the whole of her face uncovered and part of her ears visible. The locks are long and not very pronounced, only slightly sinuous. In other words, Mary is depicted with a long mane of straight, dark hair. The face is softly modelled and somewhat recollected, seeking the so-called sacred unction, with a small mouth with closed lips, a thin, long nose, expressive glass eyes and thin, arched eyebrows.
The incarnation of the image is matt, painted in soft tones, with pinkish areas highlighting the cheeks.
With regard to the heavenly cloud, on which the Virgin is placed, the homogeneity of its rounded shape stands out. Above it and next to the Virgin fly two child-angels and on the front part there is a winged angel's head. The two child-angels escort the Virgin and raise one of their arms in a gesture of presenting her to us, while at the same time almost holding her, reminding us of scenes from the Assumption. With the opposite arm they each hold a bouquet of lilies, symbolising the purity of the Virgin Mary. The placement of this pair of angels clearly opens up the composition of the work at the bottom, giving it a pyramidal or triangular shape, the high vertex of which is precisely the head of the Virgin Mary, with the unborn Christ Child in the centre of the composition. The child-angels are shown almost naked, covered only by a small, loose cloth, which nevertheless allows us to appreciate all their infantile anatomy, all their tender roundness, and in contrast to the Virgin, these angels have clearly marked cheekbones and hair with more pronounced, volumetric and dishevelled locks.

The sculptural work is completed with the works made in sterling silver by the goldsmith Jesús Domínguez's workshop. These are the two small bouquets of lilies carried by the child-angels and the halo worn on the head of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has been materialised in a circle of clouds from which asymmetrically groups of bevelled beams of lightning emanate, creating a very baroque effect.

The representation of the Virgin Mary in an advanced state of gestation is not entirely uncommon in Spain, where we have examples as early as the 13th century, such as the one preserved in the Cathedral of León. It had been celebrated since the Visigothic period, and at the Council of Toledo in 656 the Expectation of the Virgin was moved to 18 December, separating it from the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary (25 March). In 1573 Gregory XIII endorsed the feast of the Expectation of Childbirth, which chronologically must be placed between the Visitation of the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth (celebrated on 2 July) and the Birth of Jesus (25 December). In Spain and Portugal this theme has been very popular and has been called in three different ways: Esperanza (Hope), Expectation and Nuestra Señora de la O (Our Lady of the O). This last invocation seems to derive from the antiphons that are sung in the week before Christmas, between 17 and 23 December, as they all begin with the exclamation O (recitation of the O's).

The most common scene in which the pregnancy of the Virgin Mary can be seen is that of the Visitation of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth, in which both are in a state of gestation. Even in the world of painting, the embryos of Jesus and John the Baptist have sometimes been depicted inside their mothers. Extrapolated to the world of imagery and sculpture, we can see how in Spain it has been common to represent the Virgin of the Expectation or of the O with the transparent belly in the form of an ostensorium and showing Jesus inside or with a shining O and a representation of the Child God in the middle. This theme is also linked to the so-called Tabernacle-Virgins, as it is worth remembering that Mary is considered to be the first Tabernacle there was, as the body of Christ was inside her for nine months.
As for the child-angels escorting the Virgin Mary, we can point out that in France we find representations of these angels around the Virgin from the 12th century onwards. However, winged heads began to materialise and spread during the Renaissance. Although the winged head is an imperfect and sometimes rare form, it is still the best way of representing an angel, as they are immaterial beings and therefore with just a head and two wings it is possible to symbolise and highlight two of their fundamental characteristics: intelligence (head) and the speed of their movements (wings).

Note: Álvaro Dávila-Armero del Arenal, Art History graduate. Photos taken by Roberto Villarrica.