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Five Paintings
Purchase, Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, Fletcher, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest and several members of The Chairman's Council Gifts, 2014
Episode 8 / 2015
First Look

...a rare occurrence that illuminates not only the artistic accomplishment of the painter who made them but the spiritual aspirations of the person who owned them."

In 1783, Juan Bautista Echeverría wrote his last will and testament in preparation for the perilous journey from Mexico City to his native Navarre in northern Spain. Echeverría, who had gone to Mexico as a youth in the mid-1750s, returned to Spain nearly thirty years later, having amassed a considerable fortune. Among the prized possessions he took with him was a suite of five paintings on copper by Nicolás Enríquez, who signed each of them "made in Mexico in the year 1773." The set, which was recently acquired by the Museum, is preserved intact, a rare occurrence that illuminates not only the artistic accomplishment of the painter who made them but the spiritual aspirations of the person who owned them.

The paintings were intended for Echeverría's private devotional use and the choice of subject matter is highly personal. Nicolás Enríquez lavished special attention on the painting of Echeverría's namesake, Saint John the Baptist, detailing the crystalline drops of water poured over Christ's head and the gentle current of the river that flows around his submerged feet. Another painting borrows a composition from Rubens to represent the Holy Family as an earthly Trinity.

Three of the five paintings depict miraculous images that reflect Echeverría's Spanish roots as well as his extended residence in Mexico. The Virgin of El Camino is especially venerated in Pamplona, the principal city of Navarre. The painting copies a print that was used to solicit funds for the building of a new chapel for the image. Another painting represents the appearance of the Virgin to Saint James atop a stone pillar near the city of Zaragoza. The Virgin of El Pilar is venerated throughout the Spanish world, but in Mexico City the devotion is associated with the convent church known as the Enseñanza, whose founder was, like Echeverría, of Navarrese descent. The third painting depicts the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe, which is encircled by four scenes that corroborate the divine origin of the image. They record the Virgin Mary's appearances to the Indian Juan Diego at Tepeyac, near Mexico City, and culminate in the revelation of her image, miraculously imprinted on his cloak. Echeverría apparently was not satisfied to own a mere representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and he soon shipped it back to Mexico to be touched by the original image, an act certified by an inscription added to the painting in 1789.

Ronda Kasl
Curator
The American Wing
Made possible by Bloomberg

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