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Luce Foundation Center for American Art

Painting: 18th century: La Virgen del pilar
La Virgen del pilar

La Virgen del pilar
late 18th century
José Campeche y Jordan
oil on canvas mounted to a board
23 x 16 7/8 in. (58.4 x 42.9 cm.)
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Teodoro Vidal Collection


Devotion to the Virgin is an important element of Puerto Rican Catholicism. The Madonna is venerated in many guises, each with its own iconography. According to Spanish legend, the apostle James, patron saint of Spain, saw a vision of the Virgin Mary one night while he was praying on the banks of the Ebro at Saragoza. Mary asked for a church to be built on that spot. The church, Santa Maria la Mayor, was erected along with a statue of the Virgin mounted on a marble pillar. By 1456, the term Virgen del Pilar was so common among Catholics that Pope Calixtus III confirmed the name by papal decree. (Yvonne Lange, "Santos: The Household Wooden Saints of Puerto Rico," PhD diss., 1975)

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