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
Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe
by Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank
Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
The Virgin of Guadalupe reveals herself to Juan Diego
On December 9th, 1531, a decade after the downfall of Tenochtitlan (the capital of the Mexica, or Aztec, empire, today Mexico City) and the beginnings of Spanish colonization, a man named Juan Diego (born Cuauhtlatoatzin) was walking across the Hill of Tepeyac near a razed shrine (Tenochtitlan—including temples, shrines, and buildings—was destroyed in the Spanish colonial period) to the Mexica (Aztec) earth goddess Tonantzin when a woman appeared and spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native tongue. The Nahua are an ethnic group from Central Mexico whose pre-Hispanic empire, the Aztec empire, was defeated by the Spanish in 1521. The language they spoke, Nahuatl, was the indigenous lingua franca in the colonial period in New Spain, and is still spoken today in Mexico (definition from Vistas.)
She revealed herself as the Virgin Mary, and asked Juan Diego to go to the local bishop, Juan de Zumárraga, and ask for a church to be built on the hill in her honor. Bishop Zumárraga did not believe Juan Diego’s story. The Virgin Mary revealed herself to Juan Diego two more times with the same request, but still no shrine was constructed. During her fourth request on December 12th, she told Juan Diego to gather roses from the hill into his cloak (or tilma). When he stepped before the bishop and opened his cloak, the roses—Castillian roses (which are not native to Mexico) spilled forth. Imprinted on the tilma was an image of the Virgin Mary herself, known today as the Virgin of Guadalupe. Zumárraga recognized the miracle, and a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe was built on the Hill of Tepeyac, with a basilica to her constructed below. Today, the original miraculous tilma image hangs in the new basilica at Tepeyac in Mexico City.
Devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe increased dramatically in Mexico during the seventeenth century with the publication of books printed in her honor and greater support from the creole population (Spaniards born in the Americas). One of the earliest books recording the apparitions was the Nican mopohua, written in Nahuatl in the sixteenth century and widely distributed in the following century. Creoles began to identify with an “American” or Mexican identity, and supported the Virgin of Guadalupe as a uniquely americano miracle. After all, she had revealed herself on Mexican soil to a Nahua (indigenous) man. With her increased popularity came a demand for more images, especially those that faithfully copied the original miraculous tilma (as in the painting above in the Franz Mayer Museum). Many paintings even include the phrase fiel copia, or “true copy,” to suggest their painting is a direct copy of the tilma image.
Miguel Gonzalez’s enconchado painting
Detail, Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Some of the most remarkable images of the Virgin of Guadalupe are created not entirely in paint, but also include mother-of-pearl, or enconchado. Miguel González’s version portrays the Virgin as she appears on the tilma: in three-quarter view, crowned, hands clasped, eyes cast downwards, encased in light, and standing on a crescent moon that an angel supports. The manner in which the Virgin of Guadalupe appears relates to Immaculate Conception* (the doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin in her mother’s womb) imagery which was based on Revelation 12: “clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.”
Angel (detail),Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado) (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
In the four corners of the painting (below) we see four framed scenes carried by angels. These represent different moments in the story of the miracle.
In the upper left, Juan Diego is led to the Virgin Mary by angels. In the upper right, Juan Diego has a vision of the Virgin Mary at the Hill of Tepeyac; in the lower left, Juan Diego takes leave of the Virgin Mary with a full cloak, and in the lower right Juan Diego reveals the miraculous image on his cloak to the bishop and others.
Four corner scenes (detail), Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
González uses pieces of mother-of-pearl shell to form most of the Virgin Mary’s clothing (it even decorates the bodies of the angels and the frames they support). The iridescent shell would reflect shimmering candlelight to emphasize the sacredness and importance of the Virgin Mary.
Holy Spirit symbolized by a dove (detail),Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado), canvas: 99.06 × 69.85 cm / frame: 124.46 × 95.25 cm (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Above the Virgin of Guadalupe is the dove representing the Holy Spirit in a golden cloud, and below an eagle perches on a cactus. You might be familiar with this symbol from the Mexican flag, which refers to the Mexica (or Aztec) and the mythic founding of their capital city, Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). On their journey from their homeland (Aztlan), the Mexica patron deity Huitzilopochtli (pronounced “wheat-zil-oh-poach-lee”) informed the Aztecs that they would know when to end their journey and establish a new home when they saw an eagle perched on a cactus (the snake got added to the story later), which happened to be on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco (today, under Mexico City).
Eagle perched on a cactus (detail), Miguel González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado) (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
By the seventeenth century, when creoles were looking for ways to emphasize New Spain’s greatness and uniqueness, the symbol of the eagle on the cactus once again became popular as a symbol for Mexico City. Its inclusion here—as well as in many other artworks—signals the Virgin of Guadalupe’s direct connection to the people of New Spain, and so connects her to the creoles as well.
Ladder (detail), González, The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe), c. 1698, oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado) (Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Beyond the elaborate use of mother-of-pearl, González also created a frame that includes more pieces of shell inlaid into wood. Floral decorations in red and gold alternate with common symbols of the Virgin Mary that derive in part from the Song of Songs and other Old Testament sources. We see a ladder, palm tree, ship, lily, and fountain. The ladder connoted Jacob’s Ladder or the ladder to Paradise (think of Mary as the ladder by which her son descended to earth and by which mortals will ascend into heaven), while the palm tree signified an Exalted Palm (as recounted in Ecclesiasticus 24:14) and also the righteous and chosen ones (mentioned in Psalm 92:12). Mary is seen as the ship of salvation, but the ship could also refer to Noah’s Ark. The lily refers to Mary’s purity (she is the lily among the thorns), and the fountain refers to Mary as “the fountain of living water” (Jeremiah 17:13).
Enconchado artworks were popular in seventeenth-century Mexico. The shell is placed into the painting like mosaic, then covered with glazes. Shell-working had been an important art form among some Mesoamerican peoples. In the Florentine Codex, we see illustrations of Mexica shell workers, and discussions of the types of shell used in different types of objects.
Some scholars have noted the connection between enchonchado and Japanese namban lacquer work that uses a similar technique with shell inlaid into wood. Many namban lacquer works also show a preference for red and gold colors, like we see on our Mexican enconchado painting.
Storage Box in Nanban style, 16th century (Japan), gold maki-e on black lacquer, inlaid with mother-of-pearl; silver mounts, 14 x 32.1 x 28.9 cm (The Metropolitan Museum of Art)
At its height, the viceroyalty of New Spain consisted of Mexico, much of Central America, parts of the West Indies, the southwestern and central United States, Florida, and the Philippines. The Manila Galleon trade connected the Philippines with Mexico, bringing goods from around Asia to the American continent. Japanese goods were imported to Mexico via the Manila Galleons, where they were sold or sent on to Spain. Eventually, non-Japanese artists began to copy the Japanese technique.
Folding Screen with the Siege of Belgrade (front) and Hunting Scene (reverse), c. 1697-1701, Mexico, oil on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl, 229.9 x 275.8 cm (Brooklyn Museum)
Other types of Japanese objects, like folding screens (called biombos, example above), also became popular. It has been suggested that after Japan cut ties with foreigners in the seventeenth century, the demand for Japanese goods (or Japanese-inspired goods) increased. We even have an example of a Mexican enconchado folding screen that is based on Japanese folding screens and namban lacquer works, but uses imagery borrowed from European prints and tapestries. The desire for Japanese objects is likely one reason for the popularity of enconchado paintings like González’s Virgin of Guadalupe, and they showcase the cosmopolitan nature of colonial Mexican society.
*See the essay on Miguel Cabrera, Virgin of the Apocalypse for more on immaculate conception iconography.
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- Where was this particular Enconchado made?(2 votes)