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 (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.

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. 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

 

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