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Current time:0:00Total duration:4:44

Viceroyalty of New Spain

Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Beth] We're in the National Gallery of Art in Mexico City looking at a large painting of the "Marriage of the Virgin". This is a common subject in the Renaissance. - [Lauren] This painting is by the Spanish artist, Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga, who moves from Spain to the Americas to what is today, Mexico, what was then New Spain. And he creates this wonderful painting of the marriage between Saint Joseph and the Virgin Mary. - [Beth] So we have the priest in the center, who's marrying Joseph on the left and Mary on the right. And Joseph has in his hand the ring, and Mary holds out her fingers to accept that ring. And Joseph looks so young and handsome, I had to remind myself for a second, because he looks so Christ-like, that he was Joseph and not Christ. - [Lauren] And it's in this moment that we're beginning to see the shift in the iconography of Joseph, where instead of being marginalized on the outskirts of the composition as this older man who is often sleeping, here, we see the young, strapping, handsome verile man. - [Beth] It's true that for centuries in Europe, the emphasis was on Mary, but in the 16th and 17th Centuries, we have this new interest in Joseph. The Holy Spirit is just above Joseph's head here, swooping in and so we have this sense of this earthly marriage here between Joseph and Mary, the delight of the angels in heaven and the musical instruments played in celebration of their marriage by angels. - [Lauren] And I think it's important to discuss the importance of Joseph here in New Spain. Early on after the conquest, during the conversion process, St. Joseph becomes the patron Saint of New Spain, and there are very specific reasons for that. He is the patron saint of conversion, for instance. - [Beth] Well, he's the first convert. He experiences a vision from God who explains that the baby that Mary carries is in fact, Christ. The baby is divine, the baby is God. And so in a way, he is the first Christian. - [Lauren] In the context of this moment of evangelization of the vast indigenous populations, Joseph becomes incredibly important. - [Beth] You know, these figures are so close to us that it feels like we're part of the marriage ceremony with them. We see faintly behind them a church-like setting, but the emphasis is really on the figures and the divine nature of this marriage. And we have above the priest, the Hebrew letters for God. This artist didn't always paint in this style. - [Lauren] Early on when he first arrived, he'd paint what we would call caravaggesque realism, this style focused on earth tones, dramatic differences between light and shadow. And in fact, we're looking at some of his earlier depictions here in the gallery that are paired with this painting of the marriage. They couldn't be more different. - [Beth] Well, the earlier painting of the Doubting Thomas, of Thomas touching Christ's wounds so that he believes that in fact, this is Christ resurrected, there's a realism there and the wounds of Christ and the faces of the apostles who look on, but here in this painting of the marriage of the Virgin, we have figures who are more beautiful, more idealized. - [Lauren] Some of that earlier attention to detail and naturalistic elements, you do find those here in this painting, particularly in the face of the priest. It's wrinkled and the attention to the beard, or even in the carpet that all the figures stand on, where you do get the sense that he wants to portray objects as they would have appeared in nature. The reason for that shift is actually when Lopez de Arteaga first arrives here, he was painting in a style that was in vogue back on the Iberian Peninsula, but quickly learned that what was desired was this more colorful, more idealized style that we're seeing here in the marriage. And I think the point you made earlier about this glorifying of the marriage is also important in terms of marriage. Monogamy became such an important point to convey to this population here. - [Beth] Monogamy, fatherhood, being a good father, these are all things that Joseph could help the church to convey. - [Lauren] And what we see in, say, the 16th Century is this belief that the indigenous populations were too polygamous. They weren't practicing monogamy. What we're seeing here in this painting is that continued notion that you needed to communicate the importance of a chaste, monogamous marriage. - [Beth] So we have an artist who comes from Spain, learns that what he's painting is not in vogue, changes his style to match the desires of his patrons and a subject matter that has particular relevance for New Spain. (jazzy piano music)