Aesthetics and the Divine: The Beauty of the Virgin Mary and Its Representation in the Images of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico

Saturday, January 7, 2017: 1:50 PM
Room 201 (Colorado Convention Center)
Denise Fallena Montaño, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
Throughout the history of Christianity, artists and artisans faced the challenge of representing Mary’s heavenly beauty by transforming inert materials. How could this be done? Under Neoplatonic conceptions, beauty was one of the main characteristics of the Divine, and art was one way to approach it. Attending to the Council of Trent, religious images had the intention “to move devotees’ spirit to piety” and the Virgin’s beauty served to induce a state of contemplation. The images of the Assumption, patron of the Cathedral of Mexico, are a revealing example. As described in chronicles and documents such as the 1585 Cathedral Inventory left by Juan de Zumarraga, The First Dedication of the Cathedral by Mateo Saga de Buqueiro (1656), and The Second Dedication of the Cathedral by Isidro Sariñana (1667), many of them were made out of different materials and had rich ornaments. In these chronicles stand out a remarkable description of the golden statue made by Luis de Vargas and given as a gift to the Cathedral in 1610, and of the image molten in silver that was donated by the silversmith guild. In this paper I analyze these two images to understand the relationship between materials, form, and contexts of display during the colonial period in New Spain. I consider the art treatises of Belarmino, Francisco Pacheco, and the book Hermosura corporal de la Madre de Dios by the Carmelite Juan de las Ruelas (1621). Since at the end of the eighteenth century the ideal of beauty changed under the “good taste” of neoclassicism, these magnificent images of the Assumption were condemned to disappear forever and only their descriptions were left to us.