ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Spanish colonizers brought more than horses, guns and smallpox to the Americas.
They carried sketches and prints of devotional art to inspire artists across the continents.
These works often hung in Spanish colonial homes not as cloistered objects but as sacred links to the divine.
Peyton Wright Gallery’s “26th Annual Art of Devotion” exhibition spans continents, oceans and centuries as artists paired European aesthetics with imagery from across the hemispheres.
This year’s show gathers significant pieces of 17th- to 19th-century Viceregal artwork, including paintings, sculpture, furniture, silver work and objects from the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies – Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala and the Philippines. The exhibition also encompasses paintings by European Old Masters, Russian icons and New Mexican bultos, cristos and retablos.
During this time, European monastics traveled to the New World to evangelize the native people. They brought thousands of devotional images to help communicate aspects of Catholic dogma.
Local artists used these portraits as templates, often incorporating regional vegetation and wildlife into their own sacred scenes.
When gallery owner John Wright Schaefer launched the show 26 years ago, it drew from 100-200 visitors. Last year’s event lured from 2,500-3,000 guests.
This year’s version features several paintings on copper by Mexico’s Andrés López, including the 34-by-25-inch “La Sagrada Corazon de Jesus,” 1785.
“It’s the largest Mexican on copper we’ve ever had,” Wright Schaefer said. Painters on copper typically were “the artists of stature, who were formally trained,” he added.
At the time, copper was pricier than silver.
The works were usually commissioned by important patrons or cathedrals. Artists liked the metal’s smooth surface.
“The oil flowed majestically,” Wright Schaefer said. “They liked the lack of tooth. They enjoyed the simple, tactile surface preparation.”
López was active from 1777-1812.
“The sacred heart was developed in the Middle Ages,” Wright Schaefer said. “In the 1760s it became kind of a cult image championed by the artists in Latin America.”
An unknown Mexican painter produced “Divina Pastora,” an image of the Virgin May surrounded by a group of sheep, in the 18th century.
“That’s more of a personal devotional work and we’ve never seen one so large,” Wright Schaefer said of the 50-inch painting.
The setting of Mary within a flock came from a monk who reported a vision of the scene in 1703 Seville. He commissioned the Spanish painter Alonso Miguel de Tovar to create the image.
Bernabe Lobatto’s “Huida a Egipto,” a depiction of the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, is another example of oil on copper, this time painted c. 1675.
According to the Gospel of Matthew, soon after the visit by the Magi, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream telling him to flee to Egypt with Mary and the infant Jesus because King Herod wanted to kill the child. Iconic representation of the story developed after the 14th century.
“(Lobatto) was the official painter of the Ecuadoran government in 1662,” Wright Schaefer said. “It’s a lovely 17th-century piece.”
Recent auction house records show a robust market for this historic art, he added.
“The one in New York two weeks ago was very strong with the colonial material,” he said. “The quality was good; the prices were exceedingly strong.”
Lopez’s works sold for upwards of $500,000, he said.