Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz
Allegory of the Immaculate Conception as Defender of the Faith

Circa 1760
Oil on copper
National Museum of Art, Mexico City

Following tradition, Mary is pictured "clothed with the sun," with twelve stars around her head and a dragon below. The one missing feature is the moon beneath her feet.

Using ropes, Mary pulls the keys that traditionally symbolize the papacy from the dragon's jaws. As usual, the dragon is shown with just one head, not the seven specified in Revelation 12:3-4. Haymo of Auxerre wrote that the seven heads represent the kings of this earth who do battle against the Church; St. Ambrose interpreted them as the malign forces who throughout history have sought to seduce and destroy God's people (Glossa, VI, 1577-78). Thus the keys in this case represent not simply the papacy but the entire Church.

Winding around the keys are scrolls identifying two Popes who were instrumental in promoting devotion to the Immaculate Conception, Alexander III and Clement XIV. In 1656 Alexander instituted the Feast of the Immaculate Conception to be observed in Spain, and in the following century Clement approved the establishment of the Order of the Knights of the Immaculate Conception.1

The Spanish king who instituted the Order was Charles III, who also proclaimed in 1760 that the Immaculate Conception was to be the patron saint of all Spanish possessions throughout the world. His name is on the upper part of the scroll winding around the left rope. The name below it is that of Philip IV, who was reigning when the feast was first instituted.

The scroll on the right rope is labeled "Religio Seraphica" – meaning "Seraphic Order," an alternate name for the Franciscans, who vigorously promoted devotion to the Immaculate Conception. One of their number, Duns Scotus the "Subtle Doctor," is named on the scroll in Mary's right hand. He proposed the theology of the Immaculate Conception that was eventually accepted by the whole Church and proclaimed in 1854 by Pius IX.2

In quite faint script, the boy on the far left is saying Tota pulchra, from a phrase that the Vespers service for the feast day takes from the Song of Solomon ("All beautiful are you, my beloved, and there is no flaw in you," 4:7).

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Photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Clement XIV." Information on Alexander VII provided by the painting's label when exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2018.

2 Shea.