The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe)

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The Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe)

Mexico, circa 1698
Oil on canvas on wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl (enconchado)
Unframed: 39 × 27 1/2 in. (99.06 × 69.85 cm) Framed: 49 × 37 1/2 in. (124.46 × 95.25 cm)
Purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund (M.2011.1)
Not currently on public view

Curator Notes

This work is signed by Miguel González, who along with his brother Juan González, is considered the foremost painter of enconchados....
This work is signed by Miguel González, who along with his brother Juan González, is considered the foremost painter of enconchados. Invented in Mexico, the enconchado technique consisted of placing tiny fragments of mother-of-pearl onto a wooden support or a canvas, and then covering them with a yellowish tint and thin glazes of paint. The technique, which is inspired by Asian decorative arts, imparts a brilliant luminosity to the works due to the iridescence of the shell fragments. Throughout the colonial period there was a significant influx of Asian goods to Mexico via the legendary Manila Galleons that connected the East to the West. The Japanese embassies of 1610 and 1614 to Mexico also contributed to the fashion for Asian inspired objects. Interestingly, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, Japan and New Spain made attempts to formalize trade relations, but the effort was thwarted in part due to Japan's desire to curtail contact with the West following the country's unification. As the art historian Sonia Ocaña Ruiz has noted, by the second half of the seventeenth century the importation of Japanese goods to the colony had radically decreased, which may have spurred the creation of Asian inspired objects in New Spain to fulfill local demand (e.g. ceramics, folding screens, and enconchados).

This work depicts the famous Virgin of Guadalupe placed atop an eagle perched on a cactus, Mexico City's legendary coat of arms. This is a significant detail that points to the rapid Creolization of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the second half of the seventeenth century, and her increasing association with a local sense of identity. (The motif was included in two important Creole accounts of the Virgin of Guadalupe by Miguel Sánchez, 1648 and Francisco Florencia, 1688.) She is surrounded by four roundels depicting her three apparitions to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531, and the moment when Juan Diego unveiled her image imprinted on his tunic before Bishop Juan de Zumárraga (r. 1528–1547); each roundel is supported by an angelic figure that lend a sense of playful dynamism to the composition. An important element is the work's elaborate shell-inlaid frame that combines lavish floral motifs with symbols of the Litany of the Virgin. Enconchado paintings often include ornate frames such as this (inspired on Japanese Nanban lacquer work): they enhanced their preciousness and luminosity and were considered an inherent part of the work. The painting represents the vibrant fusion of Eastern and Western artistic traditions in New Spain.

Ilona Katzew, 2010