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.
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 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/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.
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.
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. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/13/Guadalupano.jpg
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. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8a/Posada_guadalupe.jpg
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. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f9/TlaxiacoGuadalupe.jpg