Art Through Time: A Global View
Converging Cultures Art: Our Lady of Cocharcas Under the Baldachin
The Spanish who invaded Mesoamerica and South America in the sixteenth century were soldiers, adventurers, merchants, and entrepreneurs seeking fame, wealth, excitement, and power.
They were also deeply religious men, some missionaries, who believed it was their God-given task to save the people of the “New World” by converting them to Christianity. In their struggle to win over souls, Spanish Christians employed a range of strategies from destroying sacred books and art to erecting churches over the sites of temples. At the same time, native populations found ways to integrate elements of Christianity with aspects of their traditional belief systems. Along with this fusion of different spiritual practices came hybrid art that melded the religious symbols and iconography of the Europeans with that of Aztecs, Incas, and other indigenous American cultures.
The Virgin Mary gained particular prominence in worship and in art during the colonial period. Several incarnations of the Madonna became the subjects of widespread devotion—the Virgin of Guadalupe in New Spain (Mexico), for instance, and the Virgin of Copacabana throughout the Andes in the viceroyalty of Peru (encompassing modern Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, and parts of Chile and Argentina). It was very common, however, for individual towns and villages to associate with particular local versions of the Virgin as well. In these places, sculptures of the Virgin would be created for churches; on holy days and during Church festivals, these statues would be dressed in finery and paraded through the streets. This practice, which followed European precedent, also drew on pre-Columbian Andean practices of honoring ritual figures with precious textiles.
This painting features a representation of a figure copied after the Virgin of Copacabana for the Peruvian town of Cocharcas. The Virgin of Cocharcas was revered by the local community for performing miracles and also became an important attraction for pilgrims. The work, painted by an unknown artist, was likely created to commemorate the dedication of a new church to house the Virgin of Cocharcas in 1623. In this case, the representation of Virgin and Child might record the procession of the statue through the town on that occasion. Surrounding the central, elevated pair in the foreground and background are scenes depicting pilgrims as well as events revealing the statue’s miraculous nature.
Various signs in the painting reference the exalted position of the Virgin and pay homage to her. An inscribed banner across the top of the canvas announces Mary’s freedom from original sin. Meanwhile, both Mother and Child wear crowns indicative of their roles as Queen and Prince of Heaven. This association with royalty is further emphasized by the baldachin, or canopy, under which the pair stands. The Virgin herself wears a wide, bell-shaped dress heavily decorated with floral motifs and gems that is typical of representations from colonial Spain. It is believed that this mountainous form alludes to the native Andean deity, Pachamama, the earth mother, with whom the Virgin was equated.
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Fane, Diana, ed. Converging Cultures: Art and Identity in Spanish America.New York: Brooklyn Museum in association with the Phoenix Art Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1996.
“Our Lady of Cocharcas under the Baldachin.” In Collections. Brooklyn Museum Web site. http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/collections.
Rishel, Joseph J. The Arts in Latin America, 1492–1820. New Haven: Yale University Press in association with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2006.