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Art of the Americas to World War I

Course: Art of the Americas to World War I > Unit 4

Lesson 2: Viceroyalty of New Spain

Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, Christ Consoled by Angels

A conversation between Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Beth Harris in front of Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz, Christ Consoled by Angels, 18th century, oil on copper, 84.5 x 64.5 cm (Museo Nacional de Arte, Mexico City). Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Beth] We're in the National Gallery in Mexico City and we're looking at a painting of Christ being consoled by angels. - [Lauren] This 18th-century painting was made by the artist Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz. It's this wonderful oil painting on copper that was likely intended for devotional viewing. Because of its scale, it's not made for an altarpiece and it really invites close looking because of the details. - [Beth] It does, and it asks us to get close to it and to look at the different ways that the angels are consoling Christ. So what we see is Christ after the flagellation, this is one of those scenes that are typically painted, where we see Christ being whipped. He's tied to a column with some rope, which we see here just to the left of Christ. But this is unusual in representing the moments after the flagellation. - [Lauren] Here Christ's back is turned towards us and this angel is supporting him and everything in the painting is done with these very smooth, clean breaststrokes. But the back, you really get this dynamic sense of the artist almost finally attacking the canvas with paint, where we see the impression of the rib cage exposed to us because the back has been opened up so much during the flagellation. - [Beth] Whereas we see his spine, we see his ribs that paint drips down. We can see a layer of red paint over the flesh tones, over the white drapery that he wears. And then we see the blood spattered along the floor, the angels clearing it up, taking that blood, squeezing it into a chalice, another angel who picks up the pieces of Christ's flesh that have fallen on the ground during the whipping, during the flagellation. - [Lauren] And all of these angels have these different expressions of sadness, of pain on their faces. And we really are invited to partake in this upsetting scene. We're being asked to feel the emotions that these angels are, and to also feel penitent over our role in say the flagellation. - [Beth] We are members of humankind who have done this to God, who have tortured him in this most terrible physical way. And the angel on the right, who holds the chalice and points to him as though saying, how could human beings have done this. How could we do this to God? An angel on the left who holds a piece of the body of Christ and looks up to God as though saying, how can human beings be forgiven for what they've done? - [Lauren] And the angel that's directly in the center of the composition that's supporting Christ has these wonderful outspread wings that are folding towards Christ as if they're about to hug him in this embrace. And again, this is the angel holding him up. Otherwise he would fall under the weight of his own body. There's this sense of compassion and one that we're expected or encouraged to share. - [Beth] So this is also really about the Eucharist. This is about the sacrament of taking the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. And the sacrament of the Eucharist was contested during the Reformation. Protestants disavowed that the bread and the wine became the body and blood of Christ. But this was reaffirmed by Catholics, especially at the Council of Trent. Here we are in the 18th Century, quite a distance chronologically, but this emphasis on the goblets, the chalices are what the priest would use. The paten, the plate is the kind of plate that would be used by the priest during mass. - [Lauren] In the 18th Century, we are continuing to see this zeal for the Eucharist. In particular the Jesuit religious order is encouraging people to ingest the Eucharist more, to experience it more, and to become more sensuously engaged with Christ. Ignatius of Loyola in The Spiritual Exercises, asked people to use the five senses, to feel Christ's flesh be torn and to smell it and to taste it and to really engage us, and I think we're seeing that here in this canvas. - [Beth] Well, what better way to understand Christianity, to become more devout and spiritual except through that sensual understanding of bodies? That's in a way the best way that we learn things, is through our bodies. - [Lauren] Here with the back wounds, the body turns so that we're focusing on them is also related to this increasing focus on the back wounds here in New Spain. And we see even in the gallery in which we're standing other works related to the Flagellation that are focused in an even more violent, gruesome way on the torture that Christ experiences, but showcasing the exposed rib cage and back wounds of Christ. - [Beth] We're really being asked to experience that pain. And at the same time in the other paintings of this subject we're also asked to experience the horrid part of human nature and the aggressiveness of our nature, the violence of our nature in doing this to the divine, to Christ. - [Lauren] And so this painting by Juan Patricio Morlete Ruiz exemplifies many of these Eucharistic allegorical scenes that we find in the 18th Century. (jazzy piano music)