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Current time:0:00Total duration:6:22

Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, known also as the Crown of the Andes

Video transcript

(jazzy piano music) - [Lauren] We're at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City in a gallery devoted to the art of the Spanish Americas. And we're looking at several paintings of the Virgin Mary with these elaborate golden crowns. And we're standing before an actual crown that is gold and covered in emeralds. - [Beth] This is actually five pounds of gold and more than 400 emeralds. This is a fabulous object, but also displays the incredible workmanship of the craftsmen who made this. - [Lauren] This is the Crown of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception from Popayan in what is today, Columbia. And the crown has an interesting story, largely because of the materials it's made of, but also because it was constructed over several different periods of time. - [Beth] So at this moment in history when the crown is created, the country we know today as Columbia and adjacent countries were part of the Viceroyalty of New Granada. This is a crown that was not made for an earthly ruler, but for the Virgin Mary, the Queen of Heaven, a sculpture, in fact, that was kept at the cathedral in Popayan. This crown would've dressed the Virgin Mary when she was taken out on a procession. - [Lauren] This is what we could call a votive crown or a votive offering. It was gifted to the Virgin at Popayan after she supposedly helped to protect the city against sickness, against smallpox and other things like famine. Members of the community came together and paid to have this crown made as a sign of their thanks and as a way of demonstrating their piety, their reverence for the Virgin. And so this would have been one of many objects gifted to this particular statue of the Virgin Mary. This was common in the Spanish Americas, as well as in Spain and other parts of Europe to dress sculptures. - [Beth] And it's not surprising that at the very top of the crown we see an orb, which is a symbol of royal power and on top of that, a cross, so this idea of Christ's dominion on Earth. - [Lauren] And then of course his mother is the Virgin Mary and she is the Queen of Heaven, which is why she wears a crown to begin with. The original portion of the crown dates to probably the early 17th Century, and that is the cross and the orb. The diadem that's at the bottom dates to the mid to late 17th Century, and then the arches date to the later 18th Century. So what we're seeing is a crown that was important for the Virgin of Popayan, that people continue to add to it rather than say, melting it down and creating something else. We look closely at the diadem, we see these foliate designs, what look like leaves and floral designs that are intertwined in this intricate design around the base. And then we have clusters of emeralds together that almost give the impression of abstracted flowers. - [Beth] And the diadem was created using a technique called repousse. So it was hammered from behind to create the volumes that we see in the gold and the patterns. - [Lauren] And we know from artistic and scientific analysis that the arches were made using a different process which helps us to date them to a leader period. But if you're looking at it, you can see some of those subtle differences in the way that it's been fashioned. At the same time, it really does give the impression of this complete whole, even though these different parts of the crown were made at different periods of time. - [Beth] So this was part of a ensemble for the Virgin on special occasions. We can imagine her also dressed in pearls and silver. - [Lauren] And she would be gifted luxurious clothes and other types of items. This is a crown that she would not have worn on a daily basis. If you had gone to the cathedral, you wouldn't have seen her wearing all of these things at once. They would have been placed on her for special feast days, especially Holy Week, when the sculpture of the Virgin at Popayan would have been processed through the streets. Keep in mind that here in the museum we're seeing this crown static. It's not moving, it's behind a glass case, but when it was placed on the sculpture that was moving it would've been activated and animated in different ways. Hanging from some of the arches at the top we actually see emeralds that would've moved as Virgin was processed. - [Beth] This is an object that held importance for a community over a long period of time. And we get a sense of how it was used when we look at paintings of statues of the Virgin Mary also wearing a crown. - [Lauren] And if we talk about the crown in terms of its production, the materials and the labor that went into making it, we could talk about how gold working and emerald mining has a very long history in Columbia that predates the arrival and invasion of the Spaniards in the 16th Century. In this area of Columbia there were many indigenous populations that for a very long time made objects in gold and mined emeralds. So this longer history of gold extraction predates the Spaniards. - [Beth] As does the use of emeralds. - [Lauren] These were already local traditions that were radically transformed with the arrival of Europeans and the subsequent conquest that occurred. We know from early colonial sources, emerald mining was very time-consuming, very difficult and challenging work. It is typically indigenous laborers who are doing that mining, but as the result of epidemics, of overworking, you also have an influx of enslaved Africans work in the mines. And Columbia is today known for having the world's finest emeralds. They are this beautiful, rich green. It is part of what made the region that included Popayan so wealthy throughout the Spanish colonial period. - [Beth] These emeralds were making their way across the world to the Mughal Empire in India. There was a huge market for emeralds globally. - [Lauren] The mining of gold and emeralds was really important for that global flow of materials. We do have to remember the human cost of producing something like this, as well. (jazzy piano music)