Ascension of our Lord, Alonso López de Herrera,
oil on canvas, 2.4 x 1.6 m
Immaculate One, anonymous, oil on canvas
Mexican and Guatemalan
religious oil paintings date from the Colonial or Viceroyalty period from
the 16th through the 18th centuries. Usually, they are worshipping pieces
meant for churches and monasteries in Mexico and Guatemala.
Many artists are known, of which a great number are of Spanish, Mestizo
and indigenous background. In the 16th century, painters such as Simon
Pereyns or Andres de la Concha came from Spain and established important
workshops to satisfy local demand. Second generation artists such as Baltazar
Echave Orio, or third generation ones such as Luis Juarez, Alonso Lopez
de Herrera, or Echave Ibia, created an original painting style at the
end of the 17th century influenced by the manierist style. Finally, in
the 18th century and following the baroque style, the names of Miguel
Cabrera, Jose Ignacio de la Cerda, Nicolas Enriquez, Miguel de Herrera,
Jose de Ibarra, Andres de Islas, Andres Jose Lopez, Juan Rodriguez Juarez
or Cristobal de Villalpando stand out. Anonymous paintings also exist.
They are oil paintings done on a wood or canvas base, usually linen, covered
with a mixture of calcium carbonate pigmented with a red or ocher color
(often seen in the deteriorated areas). Afterwards, live-colored paint
was applied followed by a final protective varnish layer.
The dimensions range from 5 cm to 2 or 4 m high. If done on wood, the
planks tend to be smaller, whereas the oil on canvas can reach greater
dimensions. Paintings over copper are usually small. They can have elaborate
Generally, these paintings represent religious topics or scenes, such
as works related to saints´ lives, images of martyrdoms, and scenes from
the Passion of Christ as well as important personalities from the Catholic
Church and founders of religious orders. Nevertheless, one of the most
common iconographies is the image of Virgin Mary with the Child Jesus
These paintings, especially
those signed by great artists, are of great quality and aesthetic value.
They have additional value because they inform us about the historical
process of incorporation of the viceroyalty of the New Spain to religion,
thought, and aesthetic trends in Western Europe.
They also present original characteristics of style and composition, owed
mostly to the fact that the sources of inspiration were European engravings
and not sight of paintings or direct influence of great Western artists.
Many of these pieces continue to be in use in Catholic churches, as part
of an architectural set and fulfilling their original religious function.
Theft causes serious losses for the national heritage as well as for the
community; and the works of art can be damaged since often during the
thefts they are cut out of the frames and rolled up, which ruins them.
They tend to travel illegally as rolled up textiles and are sometimes
folded showing the smooth side of the canvas.
- Gutiérrez, Ramón
(coord.). Pintura, escultura y artes útiles de Iberoamérica,
1500-1825. Madrid, Ediciones Cátedra, S.A, 1995.
- Sebastián, Santiago.
El Barroco Iberoamericano: Mensaje Iconográfico. Madrid, Ed.