The retablo (panel painting) of Our Lady of Guadalupe [SAAM, 1986.65.113] belongs to a body of work by Pedro Antonio Fresquís, a santero (religious image-maker) sometimes known as the Truchas Master, after the town north of Santa Fe where the artist’s major works were found.
There are no direct antecedents in New Spain (the former Spanish possessions in the northern half of the Western Hemisphere) for this artist’s work, which is generally considered to be the first folk art created in New Mexico. The figures in his primarily flat paintings are defined in simple outline and often feature long narrow noses and oval or crescent-shaped eyes. A number of space-fillers, usually composed of meandering lines, are included in the frames.
Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of several paintings of this subject by the Truchas Master. During the colonial period and into the 19th century, the image of the Guadalupe Virgin was represented in numerous paintings and sculptures all over New Spain. Artists, the Truchas Master among them, tried to replicate the original image in the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico, a work believed to have been miraculously imprinted on the garment of the Indian Juan Diego, to whom Our Lady is said to have appeared in 1531.
Hispanic-American Art (brochure, Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art)
Ring dating of the pine panels on which Fresquís painted his retablos (paintings of saints) reveals that he may have been working as early as 1780; if so, heis probably the first native-born New Mexican santero (creator of saint images). The image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexico, is one of the most popular of all religious subjects for Mexican-Americans. A miracle was said to have occurred in 1531 when the Virgin Mary reportedly visited a converted Indian, Juan Diego, as he was walking to mass outside Mexico City. The image of the Virgin, it was claimed, was miraculously imprinted upon Diego’s cloak after her fourth appearance and was widely copied in prints and paintings. The decorative borders of the painting, scratched through the wet paint, are characteristic of Fresquís’s work.
Lynda Roscoe Hartigan Made with Passion: The Hemphill Folk Art Collection in the National Museum of American Art (Washington, D.C. and London: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1990)