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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: Pre-18th century: Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara
about 1680-90
Unidentified artist
oil on wood panel
10 7/8 x 8 1/4 in. (27.6 x 21.0 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Teodoro Vidal Collection

Puerto Ricans depicted religious subjects for homes and churches, although painted images were less common than carved wooden saints. This small panel was probably created as one of several for the front of a pulpit or altarpiece in a church or a private chapel. Saint Barbara is especially revered in Puerto Rico, because she is believed to protect against hurricanes, which are an annual threat to the island. She is represented here with her symbols: a crown, a palm of martyrs, and the tower with three windows where she was incarcerated before being beheaded at her father’s order.

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