Monday, June 23, 2014

Art of Oaxaca: The Virgin Mary and portraits of St Dominic.

As an addendum to our series on the churches of Oaxaca we take a closer look at some themes we saw illustrated in the colonial art of the region.
   For our first post we compare three paintings of The Virgin Mary with portraits of St Dominic that appear in some of the churches we described earlier.
The Virgin of the Rosary presenting the rosary to St Dominic, 
who kneels in a penitential stance. 
(relief on the facade of the Rosary chapel 
of the flagship priory of Santo Domingo in the city of Oaxaca)  
© Mary Ann Sullivan 
The 16th century evangelization and subsequent building of a mission network in Oaxaca was almost exclusively the domain of the Dominican order of friars. Dominican themes and insignia can be found emblazoned on all their priories and even smaller missions across the state of Oaxaca.
    Many of the illustrated themes concern the central part played by St Dominic, the founder of the Order, in its history. One of the more common themes is the saint's leading role in popularizing the cult of the rosary and establishing Rosary chapels—an important adjunct to many Dominican churches. 
    Another less common subject, but one that is encountered in several Oaxacan churches, is the painted portrayal of the Virgin Mary presenting a portrait of St Dominic to a Dominican friar. The paintings record the appearance of a miraculous portrait of the saint in Soriano, Calabria, in the 1500s, an event that was popular with baroque artists in Spain and, although relatively rare in Mexican art, apparently popular in colonial Oaxaca.
    All the images portray the Virgin Mary, crowned as the Queen of Heaven holding up the painting of St Dominic, accompanied by Saints Catherine of Alexandria and Mary Magdalene.
Here are three examples from Oaxacan churches we have mentioned in earlier posts:
retablo painting in Santiago Tejupan (© Charlotte Ekland)
retablo painting in San Miguel Tlalixtac
retablo painting in San Pablo Huitzo 
Although the appearance of St. Dominic in different versions of the miraculous portrait varies, he is traditionally shown in Dominican robes holding a book in one hand and a lily in the other—very similar to this separate depiction of the saint at San Andrés Zautla.
Zautla: portrait of St Dominic
text © 2014 Richard D. Perry.  
images by the author, Enrique Méndez Martínez, and courtesy of Charlotte Ekland and Mary Ann Sullivan.
for more on the churches of Oaxaca consult our guide book

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