SANTA FE – For Spanish American colonists, devotion seeped into the rhythms of daily life. These practicing Catholics brought art into their private homes and chapels, where they were used, gazed at and lived with.
The 23rd Annual “Art of Devotion – Historic Art of the Americas” gathers about 100 significant 17th- to 19th-century Spanish Colonial Viceregal artworks featuring paintings, sculpture, furniture and silver at Peyton Wright Gallery. The objects come from the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, including Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala and the Philippines. The exhibit also includes a rare collection of bultos (wooden sculptures), Cristos and retablos by significant New Mexican santeros.
New Mexico’s Spanish Colonial artists expressed their love of the land by carving bultos of San Ysidro, the patron saint of farmers, peasants and day laborers. Beatified by Rome in 1619, his fame spread south across continents and centuries with Spanish imperialism.
The late-17th-century “San Ysidro” featured in the exhibition was painted in Mexico. The saint kneels on the land in supplication, a lamb at his feet. The U.S. National Catholic Rural Life Conference claims him as its patron. Both San Ysidro, Calif., and San Ysidro, N.M., were named after him.
“The angels are plowing for him,” gallery owner John Wright Schaefer said. “He’s often shown with a sickle and a sheaf of corn.”
A circa 1750 Peruvian oil on canvas of “Our Lady of Cocharas Under the Baldachin” is the rarest work of art in the show, Wright Schaefer said. A baldachin is a canopy of state draped across an altar or throne. As the Andes rise behind her, Mary sits with the Christ child in her lap as angels flutter above her. Condor plumes rise from hats crowning both the Virgin and the infant Christ.
“She’s freeing the slaves and the prisoners,” Wright Schaefer said. “Devotion to her began during the colonial occupation.”
The gilded and brocaded finery reveals the painting to have been produced at the beginning of the Baroque period, he added.
Delicate intertwining floral embroidery trails down a 1725-1825 salmon pink silk and satin chasuble or liturgical vestment from Mexico. The resplendent garment reinforces the power and wealth of the Spanish monarchy and the Catholic church. A close look at the floral designs reveals the “Namban” Japanese influence of the 16th and 17th centuries.
A core group of Japanese settled in Mexico City in 1630-70, Wright Schaefer said, bringing their artistic traditions and textile designs south.
Red is the color of fire and blood, used in Masses of the Holy Ghost, such as Pentecost. For many years, the T-shaped cloak was owned by the famed Mexican priest and art restorer Father Albino Mendoza.
As appreciation for and interest in these colonial arts spreads, most major American museums have established distinct departments and curators for this work, Wright Schaefer said.
“Many didn’t see this coming,” he explained. “It’s one of the last disciplines that one could devote assets to as a beginning collector with a modest budget.”