SANTA FE – Artists have sought to capture the divine since the first painter put brush to petroglyph.
Spanish Colonial Viceregal paintings capture a sense of the sacred, transforming transcendence into the fabric of everyday life.
Santa Fe’s Peyton Wright Gallery will showcase that radiance with its 24th annual Art of Devotion – Historic Art of the Americas exhibition. This collection of 17th to 19th century Spanish Colonial Viceregal artwork features paintings, furniture, silver and objects from the former Spanish and Portuguese colonies, including Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Chile, Venezuela, Brazil, Guatemala and the Philippines.
Much of this year’s collection came from a four-generation Santa Fe estate, gallery owner John Wright Schaefer said.
“These are cataloged and collected 17th century painters, all top-tier, and the provenance is as immaculate as their condition,” he said.
Miguel Mateo Maldonado y Cabrera’s “La Virgen Dolorosa,” circa 1750, arguably is star of the show. The painting by the Mexican master has been donated to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.
During his lifetime, Cabrera was recognized as the greatest painter in all of New Spain. He created religious and secular art for the Catholic Church and wealthy patrons. His casta paintings, depicting interracial marriage among Indians, Spaniards and Africans, are considered the genre’s finest.
A cartouche marks the composition’s lower left corner, indicating it was painted for someone of standing in either the church or Mexican political life.
“In typical Cabreran fashion, it is beautifully and exquisitely painted with the subtexts and nuance he’s known for,” Wright Schaefer said. “His elegant and understated palette is very much in keeping with the European tradition.”
Antonio de Torres’ “Madre Dolorosa,” 1718, is another version of the same “Our Lady of Sorrows.”
Torres was one of Mexico’s leading painters of the early 18th century. He created an extraordinary number of works for the wealthy mining towns of San Luis Potosí and Zacatecas, in north-central Mexico.
“This was an informed collector who had an educated eye and acquired quality work when it was available,” Wright Schaefer said.
A 1752 duet by Jose de Ibarra depicts Mary with her parents, Santa Ana and Joachim. Many of Ibarra’s pieces are preserved in Mexican museums and the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City. He was one of the most prolific painters of his day, producing mainly religious paintings for the cathedrals of Mexico.
“Like Cabrera, he was known for his gestural paintings of the human form,” Wright Schaefer said.
A Peruvian painting of “The Annunciation,” circa 1750, on fine linen was almost certainly created by an indigenous artist.
“This is not a Spanish painter in Peru,” Wright Schaefer said. “The charm and whimsy and folkloric elements many institutions find fascinating. Some of the anatomical posing and the palette support that it is an indigenous painter.”
Its original gold overlay reveals it likely hung in a private chapel, he added.
For the Spanish colonists, devotion was a part of daily life. The devout never cloistered artwork in churches but kept it in private homes and chapels. From about 1520 to 1820, European religious orders sailed to the New World to evangelize the Natives. They brought thousands of liturgical prints to help communicate the lives of the Catholic saints. Local artists learned to reproduce European styles and motifs as they incorporated their own materials, methods and subjects. The results grew into an artistic hybrid that remains unique in history.
Gallery owner Wright Schaefer launched the annual show with about a dozen works and a few hundred visitors. Today the event draws art lovers by the thousands, many of them from Albuquerque.