Art of the Americas to World War I
- An introduction to New Spain
- Hispaniola’s early colonial art, an introduction
- Prints and Printmakers in Colonial New Spain
- The Bug That Had the World Seeing Red
- The Medici collect the Americas
- Virgin of Guadalupe
- Virgin of Guadalupe
- Defensive saints and angels in the Spanish Americas
- Elite secular art in New Spain
- Classical Architecture in Viceregal Mexico
- Hearst Chalice
- Puebla de los Ángeles and the classical architectural tradition
- La Casa del Deán in Puebla
- Mission churches as theaters of conversion in New Spain
- St. Michael the Archangel in Huejotzingo
- The convento of Acolman
- Murals from New Spain, San Agustín de Acolman
- Atrial Cross, convento San Agustín de Acolman, mid-16th century
- Atrial Cross at Acolman
- The Codex Huexotzinco
- Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe
- Frontispiece of the Codex Mendoza
- Images of Africans in the Codex Telleriano Remensis and Codex Azcatitlan
- The Convento of San Nicolás de Tolentino, Actopan, Hidalgo
- Bernardino de Sahagún and collaborators, Florentine Codex
- Remembering the Toxcatl Massacre: The Beginning of the End of Aztec Supremacy
- Featherworks: The Mass of St. Gregory
- A Renaissance miniature in wood and feathers
- A shimmering saint, St. John in featherwork
- “Burning of the Idols,” in Diego Muñoz Camargo’s Description of the City and Province of Tlaxcala
- Map of Cholula, from the relaciones geográficas
- Engravings in Diego de Valadés’s Rhetorica Christiana
- The manuscripts of Luis de Carvajal
- Baltasar de Echave Ibía, The Hermits
- Mission Church, San Esteban del Rey, Acoma Pueblo
- Sebastián López de Arteaga, Marriage of the Virgin
- Cristóbal de Villalpando, View of the Plaza Mayor of Mexico City
- Talavera poblana
- Biombo with the Conquest of Mexico and View of Mexico City
- Screen with the Siege of Belgrade and Hunting Scene (Brooklyn Biombo)
- Screen with the Siege of Belgrade and Hunting Scene (or Brooklyn Biombo)
- The Virgin of the Macana and the Pueblo Revolution of 1680
- Miguel de Herrera, Portrait of a Lady
- José Campeche, the portraitist of 18th-century Puerto Rico
- José Campeche y Jordán, Portrait of Governor Ramón de Castro
- José Campeche, Exvoto de la Sagrada Familia
- Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, Christ Consoled by Angels
- Mission San Antonio de Valero & the Alamo
- Nativity group, from Guatemala
- Jerónimo de Balbás, Altar of the Kings (Altar de los Reyes)
- Miguel Cabrera, Virgin of the Apocalypse
- Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
- Casta paintings: constructing identity in Spanish colonial America
- Spaniard and Indian Produce a Mestizo, attributed to Juan Rodriguez
- Church of Santa Prisca and San Sebastian, Taxco, Mexico
- Crowned nun portraits, an introduction
- Crowned Nun Portrait of Sor María de Guadalupe
- Escudos de monjas, or nuns’ badges, in New Spain
- Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory
- Saintly violence? Santiago in the Americas
- What does the music of heaven sound like?— St Cecilia in New Spain
Cabrera, Portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz
By Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank
Miguel Cabrera’s posthumous portrait of sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) is a famous depiction of the esteemed Mexican nun and writer. Considered the first feminist of the Americas, sor Juana lived as a nun of the Jeronymite order (named for St. Jerome) in seventeenth-century Mexico. Rather than marry, she chose to become a nun so she could pursue her intellectual interests. She corresponded with scientists, theologians, and other literary intellectuals in Mexico and abroad. She wrote poetry and plays that became internationally famous, and even engaged in theological debates.
Born to a creole family in 1648, sor Juana was a child prodigy. At the age of fifteen, she amazed people at court by excelling at an oral exam that tested her knowledge of physics, philosophy, theology, and mathematics.
She came to live as a lady in waiting in the house of the viceroy (the substitute or representative for the Spanish king in Mexico). Shortly afterwards, she chose to become a nun instead of marry. She entered the Carmelite convent in 1667, but left a year later to join the Jeronymite order in 1669—and in the process gained intellectual freedom. The Jeronymite order allowed her to host intellectual gatherings and live a comfortable life.
In 1690 she became involved in an ecclesiastical dispute between the bishops of Mexico City and Puebla. She responded to the criticism she received as a woman writer, which culminated in one of her most famous works: The Answer (1691). This work defended her right as a woman to write and to be a scholar. At one she claimed that
I do not study in order to write, nor far less in order to teach (which would be boundless arrogance in me), but simply to see whether by studying I may become less ignorant. This is my answer, and these are my feelings. . . .
Despite her eloquent defense, the Church forced her to relinquish her literary pursuits and even her library. When she sold her library and musical and scientific instruments, she wrote a document that renounced her learning, which ended with “I, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, the worst in the world,” signed in her own blood. After giving up her intellectual pursuits, she cared for the infirm during an epidemic but she fell sick and passed away.
Miguel Cabrera positions sor Juana in such a way that the portrait insists on her status as an intellectual. He never actually met sor Juana, so he likely based his image of her on earlier portraits of her, possibly even some self-portraits. Cabrera likely modeled this painting on images of male scholars seated at their desks. Most importantly, he possibly found inspiration in depictions of St. Jerome, the patron saint of sor Juana’s religious order. Images often portray St. Jerome seated at a desk within a study, surrounded by books and instruments of learning.
...and a nun
In many ways this is a typical nun portrait of eighteenth-century Mexico. Sor Juana wears the habit of her religious order, the Jeronymites. She also wears an escudo de monja, or nun’s badge, on her chest underneath her chin. Escudos de monja were often painted, occasionally woven, and they usually displayed the Virgin Mary. Sor Juana’s escudo shows the Annunciation, the moment in which the archangel Gabriel informs Mary that she will bear the son of God. Her left hand toys with a rosary, while she turns a page of an open book with her right hand. The book is a text by St. Jerome, the saint after whom her religious order was named.
Cabrera’s portrait differs from other nun portraits in several important ways. She looks towards us, her gaze direct and assertive, as she sits at a desk, surrounded by her library and instruments of learning. The library here includes books on philosophy, natural science, theology, mythology, and history, and so it reflects the types of works in sor Juana’s own library. Writing implements rest on the table, a clear allusion to sor Juana’s written works and intellectual pursuits.
The rosary—a sign of her religious life—is juxtaposed with items signifying her intellectual life. The books, the desk, the quills and inkwell aid in conveying her intellectual status. The red curtain, common in elite portraiture of this period, also confers upon her a high status.
Essay by Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank
Electa Arenal and Amanda Powell, eds. The Answer/La respuesta. 2 ed. (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2009).
Charlene Villaseñor Black, “Portraits of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and the Dangers of Intellectual Desire,” in Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works, Norton Critical Edition, edited by Anna More (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., forthcoming Nov. 2015).
Marion Oettinger Jr., Retratos: 2,000 Years of Latin American Portraits ( New Haven: San Antonio Museum of Art and Yale University Press, 2004).
Want to join the conversation?
- I would like to know where the artist, Miguel Cabrera, made this? I know that it has been in Museo Nacional de Historia, however, I want to be able to distinguish the original place to where it is now.(5 votes)