|Our Lady of Guadalupe
Pedro Antonio Fresquís
Pedro Antonio Fresquís was among the first native-born santeros (artists who make images of saints) working in northern New Mexico. His Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts the patron saint of Mexico in a retablo (two-dimensional image of a saint) painted on wood between 1780 and 1830. She is one of the most popular religious subjects for Mexican American artists. The artist followed the strict Catholic convention for depicting the image by placing the Virgin, her hands in prayer, on a crescent moon supported by an angel within a radiating mandorla (almond-shaped halo or aura surrounding the head of a holy figure).
According to a miracle reported in Mexico in 1531, an image of the Virgin in this configuration was imprinted on the cloak of Juan Diego, a newly converted Native American shepherd, to whom she appeared four times. The original image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on the cloak, now housed in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City, was widely copied in prints and paintings.
The Virgin on Diego’s cloak is darker skinned than the images of saints brought to the New World by Spanish missionaries. Thus, the Virgin of Guadalupe represented an indigenous figure rather than a European one. Diego’s visions appeared when the Spanish were beginning to convert the native peoples. In this way, the Virgin of Guadalupe quickly became a symbol of Mexican Christianity.
Today the Virgin of Guadalupe represents the essential and unifying force for all Mexican Americans regardless of social, class, and geographic borders. Visual references to her are found in prints, paintings, sculptures, and photographs by Mexican American artists. She is ubiquitous: she appears not only on altars in churches and in homes across the Southwest, but also in restaurants and beauty parlors, on automobile decals, murals, and tattoos.
Ester Hernández is a California painter and graphic artist of mixed Mexican and Yaqui heritage. In La Ofrenda (image on right) she recontextualizes the Virgin of Guadalupe from the traditional religious image of the Mexicans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans into a contemporary Latino cultural icon. Representing the Virgin as a symbol of feminine strength, she depicts her in the form of a tattoo, forever emblazoned as a source of identity and adoration on a woman's back. Just as a devout visitor to a church might make an offering to an image of a saint, so the unidentified hand makes an offering of a rose to this Lady of Guadalupe. The contemporary hairstyle, earring dangling from a pierced ear, and slickness of the print surface are contemporary references. In keeping with Mexican American tradition, however, Hernández portrays the Virgin of Guadalupe as neither strictly Spanish nor Native American, but as a tawny-skinned Mestiza queen for the Americas.