The New Mexico History Museum is hosting Painting The Divine: Images of Mary in the New World in their main gallery until the spring. A 1960’s ecclesiastical wave of urban renewal inspired mission churches throughout the Americas to undergo renovations and, all to often, cast off centuries-old art work.
through March 3rd, 2016
Charles W. Collier, a cultural attaché to Bolivia, and his wife, Nina Perera Collier, began purchasing and obtaining pieces that eventually formed the backbone of the International Institute of Iberian Colonial Art, once based at their Los Luceros estate in northern New Mexico. In 2005, with the promised construction of spacious galleries and a state-of-the-art collections vault at the New Mexico History Museum, the Institute donated 70 paintings and three sculptures. When Painting the Divine: Images of Mary in the New World opens on June 29, 35 of these 17th– and 18th-century masterpieces will share one exhibition space for the first time ever (through March 13, 2016).
Painting the Divine includes works from Spain’s three colonial capitals: Peru, Mexico and New Mexico. Together, they reveal how faith sustained Spanish colonists in harsh and remote frontiers and how their religious art evolved in those places. European paintings traveled to Mexico City, where local artists recreated them. Those works traveled to Peru, where another school of religious art developed. Paintings journeyed up El Camino Real to adorn New Mexico mission churches and private homes. Once here, they inspired local artists who lacked canvas and oil paint and so used the materials available to them to create art—thereby developing into wholly new artists: the santeros, whose work thrives throughout the Southwest today.
Josef Díaz, the museum’s curator of Southwest and Mexican colonial art and history collections, chose iconic pieces from the Collier Collection and paired them with modern interpretations by artists such as Ray Martín Abeyta, Arthur López, Charlie Carrillo, Ramón José López, Alfredo Arreguín, and Marion Martínez.
“At the time the Colliers began the collection, museums, galleries and art historians didn’t pay much attention to these works,” he said. “They were considered stepchildren to fine European art. Now we know that they’re amazing, hybrid images that combine old world with new world elements, from local people to textiles, flora, fauna, and new appearances of Mary in the Americas.”
The museum conserved 12 of the paintings. The cleaning, repairing and stabilizing accomplished by Denver-based art conservator Cynthia Lawrence is detailed in the exhibit through a video created by New Mexico Highlands University media arts students. Rounding out the exhibit are loans of colonial paintings from other owners, including St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Pecos and Our Lady of Belen Catholic Church, south of Albuquerque.
“The people who made these paintings were moved by their faith,” Díaz said. “Even though many of them were struggling to exist, they made these wonderful works of art. And they give us glimpses of New World settings. You see Native peoples in their traditional clothes appear. We see mountains typical of Potosi, Bolivia. We see parrots and turkeys. And we experience the love of freedom in form and color found in the baroque style that New World artists often took to the extreme, with canvases exploding in decorative details and layers of iconography.”
Painting the Divine dovetails with the Palace of the Governors’ long-term exhibition, Treasures of Devotion/Tesoros de Devoción, which celebrates the bultos, retablos, and crucifijos created by santeros from the late 1700s to 1900.
By choosing paintings that depict Mary, Díaz creates a focal point for the galvanizing role that religion played in colonists’ lives. The exhibit explores and defines her various images—from Our Lady of the Lote Tree (Melchor Pérez Holguín, 1716, Bolivia) to The Visitation (unknown artist, ca. 1750, Mexico) to the only known canvas painting by a New Mexican santero, Our Lady of the Lakes (José Aragón, ca. 1800).
Of note to Díaz is how the paintings illustrate the trade in fabrics throughout the Americas. “The textiles include lace from Flanders, brocade from Europe, fine silks from the Philippines.” Even today, devotees of La Conquistadora at St. Francis Basilica in Santa Fe bedeck her in fine fabrics. The exhibit includes one of her outfits made from 18th-century silk from China—itself an emblem of Mary’s appearance in worlds far from the studios of European masters.
Fresco Publishing is releasing a companion catalog to the exhibit authored by Díaz and Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt, a leading art historian specializing in arts of South America. The book includes 34 images from the Collier Collection, along with the story of the Colliers, a renaissance couple whose keen eye saved these artworks for generations to come. Essayists in the book are Díaz, Stratton-Pruitt, Kelly Donahue-Wallace and Tey Marianna Nunn.
Painting the Divine is supported by the Consulate of Mexico in Albuquerque, the New Mexico Humanities Council, and many other generous donors.
Special programming events for the exhibit
Sunday, November 2, 2–4 pm, Tattoo Nation, museum auditorium. Free with admission. Sundays free to NM residents; children 16 and under free daily.
See the 2013 documentary and hear from Director Eric Schwartz. Tattoo images of saints and specifically images of the Virgin Mary are popular in Latino and contemporary culture, among men and women. Many early tattoo designs were copies of icons and paintings widely found in churches. Today, Virgin Mary tattoos come in a wide array of styles and designs, all of which are notable for their beautiful color composition, artistic quality, and dramatic effect. This documentary explores how sacred images have permeated the world of tattoos and what they mean and symbolize to the people who bare them. For more on the film, log ontohttp://www.tattoonation.com/.