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Art of the Americas to World War I

Unit 4: Lesson 2

Viceroyalty of New Spain

Christ Crucified, a Hispano-Philippine ivory

Christ Crucified, 17th century, ivory (Museo Franz Mayer, Mexico City) Speakers: Dr. Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank and Dr. Steven Zucker. Created by Beth Harris, Smarthistory, and Steven Zucker.

Video transcript

(pleasant jazz music) - [Steven] We're in the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City and we're looking at this large sculpture in ivory of the crucifixion of Christ and it's a fabulous example of the complex trade routes that existed in the late 16th and early 17th century, when we think this was made. - [Lauren] This object in ivory would have been produced in likely Manila, in the Philippines. The ivory would have been imported from somewhere else because it was not local, so maybe from India or maybe even beyond that and then the ivory workers in the Philippines were actually being trained initially by Chinese artists who were familiar with working in this technique, and they were producing these objects for export across the Pacific. - [Steven] It took tremendous effort to get ships across that ocean. But there were regular voyages between Acapulco on the Pacific Coast, near Mexico City and the Philippines, both lands controlled by the Spanish. - [Lauren] And so an object like this would have made its way via the Manila Galleon trade, getting into Acapulco, then would have been carried over land to Mexico City where it either would have been purchased or made its way further over land to the Port of Veracruz and then made its way across the Atlantic, back to Europe. - [Steven] Mexico was in the center of this complex web of trade between East Asia and Europe, with Mexico right in the middle, and it would have been very precious objects like this that would have been important enough to go on those kinds of long distance journeys. Now Mexico City, in turn, would have been trading with East Asia with the precious metals, for instance, that it was extracting. So gold and silver would have been making their way East in exchange for objects of ivory and silk and ceramics. - [Lauren] So an object like this would have likely been in a private chapel for someone who is very elite. This is not the type of object that was probably gonna be on display in a major altar piece, in say, the cathedral. - [Steven] Well it's too small but for a piece of ivory, it's enormous and if you look at it carefully, you can see that the main pieces that make up this crucifixion mimic the natural curve of an elephant's tusk, and so you can understand how this was constructed. Each of the arms are carved from individual tusks and it's possible that the body is actually put together, although it's difficult to see where from our vantage point. Nevertheless, the original turn of the tusk is still evident and adds emotional power to this figure as it animates the body of Christ. - [Lauren] This object is a perfect example of the cosmopolitan nature of Mexico or New Spain. - [Steven] It's so interesting for me to think about such a powerfully religious subject, the result of Chinese knowledge in the hands of Philippine artisans, traded in Mexico. It speaks to the vast global networks of trade in the early modern period, as well as the new reach of Catholicism. (pleasant jazz music)