La Virgen De Guadalupe

     The Virgin of Guadalupe as the patron saint of Mexico is a representation of colonial religious devotion that was transformed and continues to have resonance and religious significance to this day. It can be argued that no other religious image in the Americas so effectively merged native and European culture so that the indigenous populations of the colonies essentially venerated one of their own people versus a white foreign religious relic. La Guadalupana is also different from the other saints brought from Spain to Latin America in that she was not used to impose the Spanish conquest on the Americas. Her chosen people were the mestizos and indigenas, or locals, of Mexico and so she would always intercede on their behalf. The apparition of la Virgen of Guadalupe according to tradition happened on December 5th 1531, she appeared to an indigenous man Juan Diego and told him to build her a shrine on Tepeyac Hill. Juan Diego went to the bishop and told him that the Virgin appeared to him, the bishop demanded proof. Juan Diego went back to Tepeyac and asked the virgin to provide him with proof, she reappared to him on December 12th and told him to collect roses that she made grown in his tilma or tilmatli, or cloak. When he brought back the roses in his tilma to the bishop, dozens of roses fell out and imprinted on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Image depicts a woman in prayer surrounded by a halo of gold rays.
The original tilma of Saint Juan Diego, which hangs above the high altar of the Guadalupe Basilica.
Image depicts a man with a female figure cloaked under his apron.
Etching of St. Juan Diego’s Discovery of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his Apron, Jose Guadalupe Posada.











     From the first apparition of the virgin on the tilma of Juan Diego, her image was two dimensional image was disseminated throughout the territory of New Spain (present-day Mexico) via prints and paintings (see images above, the one on the left is the original image and the one on the right is a print by Jose Posada). This tradition of painting the Virgin of Guadalupe continues to this day with most Mexican and Mexican-American/Chicano families owning and prominently displaying a painting of the Virgin in their house. The image of la Guadalupana has also become quite common in the form of sculpture. This sculpture of La Virgen de Guadalupe addressed here works within these later traditions of sculptural versions of the saint. La Guadalupana’s popularity may have started with two dimensional representations of the virgin but the vast array of contemporary three dimensional figurines of the virgin show how she has changed and persisted as a national icon.


     This statue is dated to the mid to late nineteenth-century, produced in Mexico after its independence from Spain. Mexico declared its independence on September 16th 1810, which was marked by El Grito de Dolores, and Mexico was then recognized as an independent, sovereign nation on August 24th 1821. During the mid to late 19th century, Mexico was in state of political unrest and instability since northern Mexico was constantly threatened by Comanche raids and attacks from white colonizers/settlers in areas like Texas. From 1846-1848 the Mexican American War redrew the borders of northern Mexico with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ( All these raids, threats and wars culminated with French invasion in 1862 and finally the establishment of the second Mexican Empire.

     This statue of la Virgen de Guadalupe was likely an object of private devotional use. However it could also have been part of a retablo a piece of artwork that hung as part of an altar, in a parish church or a humble monastery. Because of the increasing political uncertainty, the common people of Mexico might have turned to La Virgen de Guadalupe as the symbol of a unified, independent Mexico. She essentially became the first Mexican citizen and the mother of the revolution, showing her change from colonial object of subjugation used to convert the indigenous people of Mexico to the protector and a symbol of independent Mexico. To this day it is customary in Mexican and Mexican-American/Chicano households to have a statue or a painting of la Virgen de Guadalupe. It is most likely that this statue was part of a household altar for La Guadalupana since it is so rudimentary in its style. This statue contrasts greatly with the retablo’s of the Virgin in the great Mexican Cathedrals or even with the iconic original painting of the Virgin which is constantly reproduced.

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, late 19th century Mexico, wood and paint, artist unknown

     In the statue of la Virgen de Guadalupe, we see a statue that seems to exaggerate certain features of the virgin to emphasize certain aspects. For example the face of the virgin is rather large in comparison to the rest of the statue, the hands are also really long. This can be a sort of hierarchical emphasis where the bigger the body part the more important it is. This emphasizes the pensive face of the virgin which has her eyes looking down and emphasizes her hands in prayer. Also the statue is not carved in a realistic manner, there seems to be more emphasis on the emotive qualities of the virgin rather than her actual characteristics, this adds more emphasis to the idea that the Virgen de Guadalupe is the all benevolent queen who prays for the souls of the damned. Even though this statue is pretty simple, the artists still incorporates the iconography that shows the Virgin’s heavenly royalty. The keeping of the angel and the blue-green colored mantle. But as I said above, the emphasis is on the pensive face and the hands in prayer. The simplicity of the statue is also seen in the carvings of the dress and mantle, the artists carved in lines to show movement of fabric but instead of making it look realistic and gauzy it looks more rigid (it looks like wood). Also another interesting note about the statue is that the color of the wood seems to lighten the complexion of the Virgin, which is normally darker since she is “La Virgen Morena”. This might have to do with the fact that the statue again is a more humble representation of the Virgin and they just kept the original wood color. A reason as to why the statue could have been designed in such a simple manner was that the artist wanted to convey the humble origins of the original story or again put the emphasis on the Virgin and not her dress/iconography.

Image depicts a statue of a woman in prayer wearing a shimmering blue cape over a pink dress.
La Virgen de Guadalupe in the Church of Santa María Asunción Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico.

     The Virgin of Guadalupe, a new world version of the Virgin Mary, has certain characteristics: olive skin, the cloak of heaven, the crown of heaven. The cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe combined pre-Columbian religions with Christianity, and she became the symbol of New Spain and was transformed ultimately into a national symbol of Mexico. The devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe went through a number of transformations and her representation did as well. The rudimentary depiction of the Virgin Mary and the construction material suggests a humble origin for this sculpture and its placement in a small, peripheral sanctuary. The statue, however, coalesces the important features of the Virgin of Guadalupe and creates a figure embodying Mexican and local identity. Certain traits are emphasized; the crown of heaven, facial features, and the lack of precise craftsmanship. The crown of heaven is noticeable and understood clearly. Her facial features speak to a forming Mexican identity. The construction is focused on the message of the Virgin of the Guadalupe, and the statue serves as a didactic figure.  The lack of ornate decoration can either be a conscious choice due to a fervent religiosity or a lack of resources. The statue is an evangelical Virgin of Guadalupe, focusing on the religiosity of the Virgin not on her earthly appearance.

     This wooden statue (shown previously) of la Virgen de Guadalupe, or la Virgen morena,  is consistent with her contemporary iconography. La Virgen de Guadalupe  wears on her head a four-pointed crown that is a symbol of her royalty. The four points could refer to the holy figures of God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and herself. In Mexico she was associated with the earth Mother goddess of the Aztecs, Tonantzin, and the four points of her crown could allude to the four cardinal directions. Also keeping with the theme of royalty and other-worldliness, la Virgen de Guadalupe is dressed in a blue mantle which is covered with gold stars; the color blue in both Judeo-Christian and indigenous traditions represented royalty. The gold stars on her mantle are a reminder that La Virgen de Guadalupe is a heavenly figure. Traditionally, the Virgin of Guadalupe is dressed in a red or pink gown, and the wooden statue follows this tradition with her light rose/orange-hued dress. In the center of the dress, there are brushstrokes that try to convey the movement of the fabric and add dimension to the seemingly otherwise smooth surface. Under the feet of La Virgen de Guadalupe is an angel who supports the standing figure. In the indigenous cultures of Mexico, only royalty were allowed to be carried, and so this angel reminds us of the Virgin’s royal status in heaven. Two red dots next to the angel on the pedestal appear to be roses associated with the miraculous creation of the original image. This breaks with the traditional iconography of La Virgen de Guadalupe that generally associates her with white roses. Another departure from her regular iconography is the absence of the crescent moon, a detail that connects here with the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. The face of the statue, as well as the hands, command attention since they are disproportionately large compared to the rest of the statue. La Virgen de Guadalupe’s eyes are half closed and are looking down, which shows her humility. Her hands held together in prayer, made more prominent by the large cuffs at her wrists, also displays her piety and devotion. Through her simplicity, humility, and piety she is a role model for as well as a protector of the Mexican people.

Image depicts a painting of La Virgen de Guadalupe exhibited behind a Mexican flag.
Original image of the Virgen de Guadalupe miraculously imprinted on the tilma of the indian San Juan Diego. Mexico City, Mexico.
Image depicts a flag with the image of a woman in prayer
Standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe carried by Miguel Hidalgo during the start of Mexico’s War of Independence in 1810.










Bibliographic References

Conover, Cornelius. “Reassessing the Rise of Mexico’s Virgin of Guadalupe, 1650s–1780s.” Mexican Studies/Estudios Mexicanos, vol. 27, no. 2 (2011): 251–279.

Marcuse, Standard of the Virgin of Guadalupe carried by Miguel Hidalgo during the start of Mexico’s War of Independence in 1810.

Noreen, Kirstin. “Negotiating the Original: Copying the Virgin of Guadalupe.” Visual Resources, vol. 33, no. 3-4 (2017): 363–384.

Palma, Estparta. Original image of the Virgen of Guadalupe miraculously imprinted on the tilma of the indian San Juan Diego. Mexico City, Mexico.

Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. Visualizing Guadalupe : From Black Madonna to Queen of the Americas. First ed. Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long Series in Latin American and Latino Art and Culture. 2014.

Peterson, Jeanette Favrot. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation?” Art Journal, vol. 51, no. 4 (1992): 39–47.

Posada, Jose Guadalupe, St. Juan Diego’s discovery of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his apron. Etching.

Stracke, Richard & Stracke, Claire. La Virgen de Guadalupe, in the Church of Santa María Asunción, 17 July 1991, (1,198 × 1,797 pixels), Church of Santa

María Asunción Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico.


The Archangel Gabriel


Image depicts an angelic figure wearing intricately decorated garments, yielding a long firearm.
Archangel Eliel with Harquebus, Anonymous Cusco School (1690 – 1720), 66.3 in x 42.5 in, oil on canvas.

     As the Spanish invaded and conquered the Americas, they employed their ardent Catholicism and religious imagery as a tool of the conquest. The cult of angels was already popular in Spain, since archangels were thought to be in direct contact with the Spanish royal family and worked specifically for the people of Spain. During the Muslim occupation of Iberian Peninsula, the archangels were depicted as military figures who aided the Christian Spaniards is pushing out the Muslims. Archangels in the American colonies took on a similar militant role and became known as the arcangeles arcabuceros (or archangels with weapons).  Just like the Spaniards which were fighting a holy war to convert the native populations, the archangels were depicted in military garb preparing their guns for battle. These archangels served two major purposes; the first was to remind the native populations of the holiness and might of the spaniards, and the second was to teach the indigenous population of the Peruvian Viceroyalty about Spanish history and more importantly Catholicism. Even though archangels were used originally as a tool for conquest, their continued popularity within all of Latin America demonstrates that the artistic and religious relationship between the Spanish and the indigenous peoples of the Americas was complicated and evolving, and many religious images have persisted in Latin America because they took on a new meaning of national pride.

Archangel Gabriel, ca. 1775, Peruvian, artist unknown.

     This painting of the Archangel Gabriel was finished circa 1775 and it is attributed to the Cuzco school of painting, though the actual painter of this work is unknown. Eighteenth-century Peru was still under Spanish rule, and this was seen in the indigenous uprisings that occurred during various parts of the century up until the Peruvian War of Independence. One of those uprisings can be related back to this portrait and its function, in 1780 Tupac Amaru II lead an attack against a Spanish force while they were attending church. This one rebellion reminds us of the importance that religion especially Catholicism had on the colonization, genocide and subjugation of native peoples in Peru (and the rest of the New World). Catholicism could be used both as a tool of conquest and rebellion, religion became a double edged sword that helped define latin american identity but also perpetuated spanish power. Paintings of archangels could serve two functions, that of private devotion within a home or private chapel or didactic imagery in a public church. Based on the elaborate nature of this painting, it is more likely that this painting was most likely part of an altar for the Archangel Gabriel. This painting likely formed part of a retablo, a piece of artwork that hung as part of an altar, where church parishioners could go and directly pray to Gabriel and leave him offerings, or light a candle at the altar as is common practice today. The tradition of retablos in churches continues to this day and they are seen all over Catholic churches in Latin America. As the Archangel Gabriel is the messenger of God, most parishioners would have prayed to him for holy intervention to help them hear/interpret the message of God. Many prayers to the Archangel Gabriel now ask for clarity and wisdom. The reason why religious paintings in the colonies were so important was because they “became a visual language for an Indian audience unschooled in either European religion or history.” (Stroessner, 1990). Since the Spanish crown put such an emphasis on the arts, schools of arts in Latin America developed as well. This painting of Saint Gabriel belongs to the Cuzco School. The Cuzco school with its inception continued the traditions of European and Spanish art however with time native and mestizo influences began to incorporate themselves into colonial art. This painting, like so many others is a mix of indigenous styles and iconography (the flower border) with european themes and styles (catholicism)

Floral detailing, Archangel Michael.
Detailing, floral border, Archangel Michael









Image depicts five figures, two women, a man, and two children on marble steps.
Poussin, Nicolas. Holy Family on the Steps. 1648, oil on canvas, 69 cm x 98 cm, National Gallery of Art. Washington D.C.

     The style of painting that seems to hearken back to Poussin (see image above), where it almost seems as if the painting was done using color blocking, creating crisp lines in the composition.The composition is self-contained and none of the painting extends beyond the frame. When looking at the figure of the Angel Gabriel, there are no clear brush marks, everything is beautifully blended. The outlines of the figure are extremely clean and the colors add to the crispness of the painting. The one main style element of the painting is that of the dramatic shadows that create a sort of diagonal line through the composition. On the left side of the painting there are rays of light that illuminate the hand, the face and the clothing of the archangel. On the right side of the painting, there is a dramatic shadow that is contrasted by the bright flower border. Upon closer examination of the flowers the artist seemed to paint each petal with one thick brush stroke (impasto). The flower border is typical of Peruvian Viceregal paintings, with great emphasis being paid to each type of flower, its color and detail. They are so naturalistically depicted that they seem to almost jump out of the painting. The flower border envelops the archangel, surrounding him with sumptuous, even excessive, decoration. When we look at the figure of the archangel there is an extreme feminization of the body and the face, St. Gabriel looks more like a young androgynous women than an immortal male angel, which might be a play on angels transcending gender. The Archangel Gabriel is made to look extremely beautiful and otherworldly, transcending human gender as a member of the heavenly hierarchy and beautiful beyond earthly standards. His demeanor remains calm and serene, even when battling evil in defense of humanity.

Cusco School. Joseph and Jesus. 18th century, oil on canvas.

     Religious paintings and religion itself served as a colonization tool in the Spanish colonies but later became symbols of independence and local pride. Paintings of archangels best illustrate this concept of art as a tool of conquest. As Holland Cotter states “devotional images are not inanimate objects; they are responsive presences with feelings and personalities. They console, reprimand, give directions and, for believers, carry an emotional charge mingling awe with affection.” (Cotter, 2000) In the case of archangels, these holy figures aided in the conquest of the colonies through their spiritual and military abilities. The militant nature of angels is epitomized by the arcangeles arcabuceros. These archangels were painted in full military dress to show how they were fighting a holy war, linking the invasion and conquest of the Americas to a holy battle in which the angels aided the righteous victors. As noted by Gabriel Palmer, representations of angels as soldiers arose from an interpretation of the Counter-Reformation’s vigorous defense of Catholicism. (Fraser, 1995). Though the Archangel Gabriel in this painting does not wear military attire, he still served as a symbol of the defender of Christians against all enemies.

Image depicts an angelic figure with an intricately decorated, blue and red cape, yielding a shield and spear.
Archangel Raphael, Cuzco School, 18th century, 44 x 30 cm, oil on canvas.
Archangel Gabriel, Peruvian, ca. 1775, artist unknown.











Bibliographic References

Anonymous Cusco School. Archangel Eliel with Harquebus. (ca. 1690 – ca. 1720), oil on canvas, 66.3 in x 42.5 in. Lima Art Museum. Lima, Peru.

Potter, Holland. “In Festivity and Faith, Spain’s Religious Images.(exhibition ‘Images in Procession: Testimonies to Spanish Faith,’ American Bible Society, New York City, through Apr. 29, 2000)(Living Arts Pages).” The New York Times, April 07, 2000.

Fraser, Valerie. Bulletin of Latin American Research 14, no. 2 (1995): 234-37.

Cohen Suarez, Ananda. “Painting Andean Liminalities at the Church of Andahuaylillas, Cuzco, Peru.” Colonial Latin American Review 22, no. 3 (2013): 369-99.

Cusco School. Joseph and Jesus. 18th century, oil on canvas.

Cuzco School. Archangel Raphael. 18th century, oil on canvas.

Leyva-Gutiérrez, Niria E. “Conflict and Imagery: Saint Michael and Ecclesiastical Power in New Spain.” Hispanic Research Journal 15, no. 5 (2014): 422-44.

Mumford, Jeremy. “Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture, and Consciousness under Spanish Rule, 1532-1825 (review).” Hispanic American Historical Review 83, no. 1 (2003): 176-77.

Poussin, Nicolas. Holy Family on the Steps. 1648, oil on canvas, 69 cm x 98 cm, National Gallery of Art. Washington D.C

Stroessner, Bob, and Dewalt, Teddy. “Three Artists of Cuzco: Three Centuries of Colonial Art. (Peru).” Americas (English Edition) 42, no. 2 (1990): 56-58.

Saint Camillus, The Patron Saint of Dying

This is a nineteenth-century colonial Mexican devotional image, used by the Church as a didactic tool to teach new converts about the role of saints in Christianity. The subject matter, which is the sacrament of Last Rites, or confession on one’s deathbed, educates the faithful about obtaining forgiveness for one’s sins in order to merit entrance into heaven. These visual representations of Christian doctrine would have been instrumental in bridging the language barrier between Spanish conquistadors and native peoples in the early years of the conquest.

Traditionally, in Spain, retablos were painted on wood or other, cheaper materials, but with the easy access to metals in the New World, this Mexican retablo was painted on tin. This access to new materials in the New World made retablos much more durable and much easier to produce. In Spain, retablos were typically larger paintings, up to forty feet tall, only found in churches, but in the New World, they were created on a much smaller scale. This Mexican retablo is only ten by fourteen inches, making it much more portable.

The scene is divided horizontally, with the holy men bearing the red cross of Saint Camillus of Lellis on the left section, and the demons of hell being driven away by the crucified Jesus on the right. The speech scrolls convey the message that the dying man has confessed his sins, and the demons that had come to steal his soul feel cheated, as Jesus’s forgiveness has robbed them of a soul for hell. The speech scrolls contain the phrases “In the aria the / the sinner will get / your guilt I forgot / all of them.”, “It weighs me in the soul of the offended.” and “I believe in God I love God I wait in God I trust in God .” In the top center of the retablo, an angel emerges from the demons to place a laurel on the head of the dying man, a symbol given to holy men upon their death and indicates that he is going to heaven. The panel uses predominantly neutral colors, but draws attention to important symbols by using green and red and contrasting the colors of the crucifix with those of the fires of hell. The color yellow is also used, but only to denote Saint Camillus’ halo, a symbol of his sainthood. There is a strong contrast between the darker, savage, hairy, unkempt demons and the pristine, smooth, lighter colored angels, drawing a visual distinction between good and evil. The work also uses a distorted perspective, as the viewer is looking down on the dying man and saint, while a different, lower perspective is used on the holy men, who seem dwarfed by their surroundings and disproportionate, as they are no taller than the bedside. This distorted perspective suggests that the purpose of the panel is didactic, as it is more concerned with showing the important elements of the scene clearly than simply recording a scene exactly as it would appear.

This Mexican painting is representative of the style of Spanish colonial Christian retablos. Religious scenes made up a majority of the art being commissioned in nineteenth-century Mexico, and this religious imagery was intended to be didactic and easily reproduced so it could be distributed to Christian pilgrims, giving them a closer connection to the saints. The style of this painting reflects its purpose. The use of oil on tin, a metal that was cheap and readily available in the colonies, creates a smooth matte look because the oil paint does not fuse to the surface of the tin like it would on canvas. This flattening effect coupled with the almost invisible brush strokes creates a homogeneous effect on the painting. The style in which the figures are portrayed is common in Spanish colonial paintings, as many mass reproduced retablos were made by amateur painters. The human figures all have the same facial features, hair style, and expression. The proportions of the bodies are awkward, they appear stiff, and the hands are painted without detail. The naked babe in the top of the panel is painted as if it is a shrunken adult, rather than an actual baby. The painting presents an unnaturalistic perspective on the scene, a very unrealistic scene, perspective wise, as the tiles converge in the center, the figures are not proportionate to the bed, and the bed itself is too long, extending well past the pillow. Great attention to detail, however, is paid to the didactic elements in the painting, and the speech scrolls are perfectly legible. This selective application of detail suggests that the painter is calling attention to the morality and important religious subject matter of the painting, rather than trying to create a realistic rendering of a dying man’s last moments.

Retablos were panels depicting religious scenes encased in frames or elaborate backdrops behind altars. The imagery was often votive, that it would depict a person in a dangerous situation being saved by a saint or giving thanks after a miracle had been performed on his or her behalf . This particular panel is a votive object, or ex-voto, as the dying man’s soul is being saved by Saint Camillus of Lellis, the patron saint of dying, and this panel was probably commissioned shortly after the scene it depicts happened. Thought retablo’s were traditionally displayed behind altars, eventually they became mass produced so that Christians could build small altars in their homes in order to feel closer to the saints. This panel probably fell under the category of souvenirs that pilgrims took home from their travels to holy places. These more portable, Christian images were probably made popular in the spreading of Christian beliefs to Native Populations in the New World. Saint Camillus was a Capuchin monk who spent the first half of his life with a severe gambling addiction and fighting in several wars. It was not until he heard a sermon at the Capuchin friary at Manfredonia at age 24 that he decided to devote himself to the church. He was turned away from several monasteries due to his severe war injuries, but he was finally accepted as a superintendent at San Giacomo. While there he devoted himself to the care for the sick, emphasizing cleanliness and the performance of the last rites for all patients. He eventually founded his own Congregation, and received the miracles of healing and prophecy.



1. “St Camillus De Lellis.” Saint Camillus De Lellis |, 2007,

2. “The Lowe, Art Lab. Conquest and Coexistence: The Cultural Synthesis of Spanish Colonial Art.”, 2015, University of Miami Lowe Art Museum.

3. “Mexican Retablos, Retablo Art, Ex-Votos, Spanish Colonial Art.” Mexican Retablos, Retablo Art, Ex-Votos, Spanish Colonial Art. Accessed April 17, 2018.