The subject of the Marriage of the Virgin is based on apocryphal accounts of the event in the Golden Legend, a thirteenth-century collection of the lives of saints by Jacobus de Voragine. Though the subject was represented in Europe (e.g., Durer and Raphael), on the whole it was rare in Spanish Golden Age painting (one notable exception is Francisco Pacheco's scene of 1588 for the Iglesia de la Anunciación in Seville). Curiously, the subject seems to have gained more currency in New Spain where it was taken up by some of the best brushes of the time: José Juárez (c. 1585–1639); Luis Juárez (c. 1586–1639), and Sebastián López de Arteaga (1610–1652), the latter whom came to Mexico from Seville in 1640. In the early eighteenth century, the famous Cristóbal de Villalpando also rendered his own version.
The simple composition depicts the Jewish high priest in the center, flanked on either side by the holy couple. Joseph holds the flowering staff to symbolize that he was chosen by God to marry the Virgin. Among the most striking details are the priest's hands, with every knuckle clearly drawn, as well as the realism of his facial expression. The scene is presided over by the Holy Ghost, beautifully rendered within a circle of light, as two majestic hands descend from the heavens to embrace the couple and sanctify the union. This inclusion of God's hands is an unusual detail that recurs in the works of all the New Spanish painters mentioned above, but which is conspicuously absent from the Europeans models. It is possible that the artists shared a common visual source (either a print or a painting that is yet to be identified), but it is even more likely that they were looking at each other's work, demonstrating the significance of a local tradition of painting within Mexico itself. While several works by Ramírez have been identified throughout Mexico (including in Mexico City's cathedral), this is a remarkable example from the artist's small surviving oeuvre.
Ilona Katzew, 2010