If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:6:41

Viceroyalty of New Spain

Video transcript

[Music] we're in the National Museum of Art in Mexico City and we're looking at a brilliant small painting of two Hermits Saint Anthony and Paul the hermit and this painting by Balthazar they achieve a BA is exceptional because this painting on copper allows for this really rich build up this luminosity just shined through we usually think about paintings oil-on-canvas perhaps tempera on wood or fresco but there's a long tradition of artists painting on metal plates and there is a very different quality one of the things that makes this painting so beautiful is not only this great blue gray cast by the kind of luminous nough said but also there's a precision a hardness that makes everything seem so real and it really invites close looking this would have been either a private devotional piece or something placed into the bottom of an altarpiece where you could actually get close to it because there are some really wonderful details that you can't see from even just across the gallery well in the era before there were motion pictures or videos painting was something that you spend time with and a painting like this really does invite you to look in closely as the story unfolds and we have this wonderful continuous narrative where we're seeing st. Anthony this 90 year old hermit who's heard that there's an even older and wiser hermit out in the desert and so he makes this journey to go find st. Paul in a hermit is somebody who has given up their worldly possessions to live in nature to live in isolation so that they can devote themselves to a spiritual life the first scene is very difficult to see it's on the right side towards the middle ground and we see st. Anthony who's speaking to a monstrous figure it's half man and half horse this legend this story comes from the Golden Legend this medieval texts that compiled all of these Saints stories right and it's important to remember that this is not in the Bible these were stories that were meant to fill in some of the gaps around the biblical stories and so it mentions this encounter with the satyr who were unsure whether he's the devil or if he's benevolent but he points in the direction of where Anthony could find st. Paul in the wilderness and gives him a little bit of fruit along the way at the same moment we see just to the bottom left of that st. Paul the hermit in a cave in isolation that is of course the person that st. Anthony is seeking but the main section of the image that takes up the entire left half of the plate shows the two Hermits together in st. Anthony's cave and this is the climax of the story the encounter of these two important Hermits and what we're seeing here in the left half of the composition is st. Anthony who's gesturing of humility and reverence and respect to Saint Paul whose arms are held aloft as if he's imparting some wisdom or in this case potentially relating to Saint Anthony how God has been bringing him bread for the past 40 years and in fact if you look up a little bit to the top center of the canvas you can see that there's a raven that's bringing two loaves of bread to them this is a clear indication of God's favor and I love the way that the loaves themselves are bisected by the horizon line suggesting that this spread is moving from the celestial spiritual realm into their physical world but maybe my favorite part of the painting is at the feet of the two Hermits where we see all this wonderful wildlife there's a duck there's a stream there's a rabbit there are austere shells and even a snake and a salamander and the rabbit almost reminds me of Duras hare I think there's no question that the artists here in the new world is influenced by the Northern Renaissance interest in this really careful rendering of the natural world and beyond that for thinking symbolically many of these animals had associations with lust or greed they had negative connotations and so here they are functioning perhaps to remind us that these Hermits aren't rising above the sins of humans I want to go back to that idea that there are some precedents here because the entire landscape is so fanciful but recalls the landscapes of Flanders of the 15th century look at that rock outcropping and even the bluish tones that atmospheric perspective back into space all of this looks like the kind of work that would have been done by German or Flemish artists and we're supposed to be in the middle of the desert here and we really don't get that sense of a desert there are a few indications we see a palm tree that rises behind st. Paul but this it really looks like lush forests brilliantly illuminated almost as if we've taken this legend and placed it in to this paradise really to the Americas and this artist comes from an important artistic family and is known specifically for his blue tones which I think are even more heightened here because of the copper underneath Baltazar daya Chafee audio comes from Spain and he's one of these early immigrant artists to come to the Americas to seek new fortune new patronage and he establishes this incredibly important artistic dynasty and so fathers are the HIV obeah the artists of this oil and copper painting is his son and he really is famous for these blues he's actually known as HIV of the blue tones but we're only actually halfway through the story line if we leave the left portion of the composition here where we see the two saints talking and we go back to this central portion where we see Saint Paul in the cave we can actually read that as a later moment in the narrative as the moment where he's about to die and in fact will die in the wilderness and we can make that assumption because just before him on the edge of the canvas in the middle ground we see two lions and we know that in this legend st. Paul's lifeless body is actually found by Saint Anthony and Lions help to bury him and we see Saint Anthony just beyond that ground plane who's looking up to heaven and at his feet are Paul's garments and if we follow his line of sight we look up into the sky and we see this luminous nude body that is ascending into heaven and we know of course that this is Paul who has been blessed because of his deeply spiritual life and I love the way that he's almost being clothed by the angels that surround him light emanates from that body and is so beautifully contrasts against the dark clouds behind him and you see the use of the blue Flemish inspired landscape that HIV a/b is so famous for in many of his other works some of which were seeing in the galleries here just to the left of the painting that we're looking at so we're seeing this really complex relationship between an ancient story an ancient legend that is important both in Europe but also here has been transplanted into the Americas by an artist who was born here in Mexico and is drawing on the Spanish and north and tradition to create a painting for an audience in New Spain [Music]