of Guadalupe, late 17th c.
The Virgin of Guadalupe, whose shrine sits on what was once the outskirts of Mexico City, was one of the most revered apparitions of the Virgin Mary in New Spain. Her image is believed to have miraculously appeared on the cloak of a 16th-century Nahua man, Juan Diego. And throughout the colonial period this image has been replicated in paintings, prints, and, more rarely, shell-encrusted reliefs such as this one. The Virgin of Guadalupe was (and is) a testament to how otherworldly beings can intervene in the lives of ordinary and humble humans. Even today her representation permeates daily life in Mexico, set on home altars and hanging from rear-view mirrors.
When viewed from afar, and especially in a candle-lit interior, the figure in this image seems to glow. The Virgin of Guadalupe would thus appear to hover before her devotees, bathed in sacred light. The work’s otherworldly appearance is created by a combination of painting and enconchada: the garments of the Virgin are created out of razor thin squares of mother-of-pearl, glued onto the background and covered with opaque washes of paint. The same technique is also used for the borders of the image and in the frame.
Enconchada paintings were first produced in Mexico in the 17th century in the workshop of brothers called González. Because the technique of mother-of-pearl inlay is originally an Asian one, the brothers might have come from Asia, or been the children of Asians, who adopted a common Hispanic surname. While much of the Asian influence in the art of Spanish America seems to have come from imported objects, in the case of enconchada, it may have been the direct result of immigration.
Brading, D. A. Mexican Phoenix: Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition across Five Centuries. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dujovne, Marta. 1984. Las pinturas con incrustaciones de nácar. Mexico: UNAM.
Gruzinski, Serge. 2001. Images at War: Mexico from Columbus to Blade Runner (1492-2019). Translated by Heather MacLean. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Tovar de Teresa, Guillermo. 1990. “Los artistas y las pinturas de incrustaciones de concha nácar en México.” La concha nácar en México. Mexico City: Grupo Gutsa.
Copyright 2005, Dana Leibsohn and Barbara Mundy
Please credit as: Leibsohn, Dana, and Barbara Mundy, Vistas: Visual Culture in Spanish America, 1520-1820.