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Section 2: Guadalupe of Extremadura, Spain

The apocalyptic woman that Miguel Sanchez described in his book Imagen de la Virgen
was depicted in early sixteenth-century Europe, and New Spain, as Mary of the Immaculate
Conception, a woman with the sun’s rays at her back, a crescent moon under her feet, a crown of
twelve stars on her head, and other characteristics from the book of Revelation (12). The origins
of Immaculate Mary’s dogma are highly debatable, and have a torturous history. The sinlessness
of Mary was a challenging concept that simple visualizations could not portray, and into the
sixteenth century no image of Immaculate Mary was fully recognized.1 In the end St. John’s
apocalyptic woman as the Virgin Mary, surrounded by symbols of her purity, fused visually and
symbolically to depict the Immaculate Conception.2 A significant image of an Immaculate Mary
is the Virgin of Guadalupe of Extremadura in Spain. The venerated sculpture portrays the Virgin
Mary with a very dark complexion, and is also named Guadalupe. What similarities are there
between the Guadalupe of Mexico with the original?
La Virgen de Guadalupe (Mexico) was named after a popular shrine in Guadalupe, Spain
in the region of Extremadura (Fig. 4). Although the painted Guadalupe of Mexico does not
resemble her Spanish counterpart, a diminutive sculpture of the Virgin and Child, name
recognition alone insured her appeal for European and Spanish devotees.3 Controversy
surrounds the origin and meaning of the word Guadalupe, scholars agree that it contains the
Arabic radical quad (Guadalquivir, Guadiana, Guadalete, etc.) used to designate streams and
rivers (oued). Other interpretations suggest that the word is of Latin origin, lupum, the wolf,
A full description of these Marian themes could be explored in Jeanette Favrot Perterson’s article, “Creating the
Virgin of Guadalupe: The Cloth, The Artist, and Source in Sixteenth-Century New Spain.” The Americas 61, No. 4
(2005), 571-610.
Peterson (2005), 590.

Jeanette Favrot Peterson. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation?” Art Journal 51, No. 4
(1992), 40.

whence “river of wolves”, although appears unlikely because wolf in Castilian Spanish is lobo.4
The pious legend associated with Guadalupe of Extremadura contains similar happenings to the
story of Guadalupe (Mexico), such as, the idea of the Virgin Mary appearing to a commoner,
and commanding that a church be built in honor of her appearance. At the beginning of the
fourteenth century, according to Guadalupe’s (Spain) pious legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to
a poor herdsman who had lost his cow, and commanded him to tell the priests to come and dig at
the place where she had appeared. At the site, the image was found and a small chapel was built
to house it.5 According to the legend, King Alonso XI of Castile had defeated the Moors at
Salado in 1340 after commending his fortunes to the Virgin of Guadalupe (Spain), and as a
consequence he dedicated the royal house to financial patronage of the monastery. From 1340 to
1561, Our Lady of Guadalupe at Extremadura was at the hub of Spanish religious life, and was
closely identified as La Conquistadora, a symbol of victory over the last Islamic political power,
the Moors in 1492.6 Another significant aspect to the story is that it was supposedly carved by
the evangelist Saint Luke, buried, and then brought to Rome by Pope Saint Gregory the Great.7
On an interesting note, prior to their arrival in the so called New World, Francisco Pizarro and
Hernan Cortes, along with other conquistadors, gave a final prayer at the feet of the Virgin of
Guadalupe before their departure. Until the nineteenth century the Spanish Guadalupe
monastery was one of the richest in Europe; consequently many Spaniards, religious or laymen,
regarded the Guadalupe of Mexico to be a copy (un transunto) of the holy image of
Extremadura, and nothing more, since all went back to the legendary history of the “dark Lady of

Jacques Lafaye. Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness 1531-1813,
(Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 217.

D. A Brading. Mexican Phoenix Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition across five centuries, (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 37.

Miguel Angel Ladero Quesada. Spain, circa 1492: Social values and structures (in) Implicit Understandings.
Edited by S.B. Schwartz, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 96.

Lafaye, 221.

las Villuercas”, the work of St. Luke’s chisel.8 The sculpture of the Virgin Mary is made of
cedar, she holds a scepter in her right hand, is frequently dressed in various elaborate garments
(for the Virgin and Child), and decorated with gold and jewels (Fig. 5). The Spanish Virgin of
Guadalupe is actually sitting with the Christ child on her lap. The cedar bark is what makes the
sculpture seem dark brown, and therefore, both the Virgin and Child appear to be dark skinned
figures. Ultimately, the Virgin of Guadalupe in Spain differs greatly from La Virgen de
Guadalupe of Mexico despite both having a brown skin tone. Examples of these differences are,
one, the Spanish Guadalupe Virgin is a three dimensional sculpture with Christ, second,
Guadalupe (Mexico) has more symbols that represent an apocalyptic woman. Lastly, the
Spanish Virgin follows the standardized immaculate iconography, such as the triangular gown.
The venerated Guadalupe, Spain, was most likely not “ethnicized” by her Spanish devotees. She
was probably not considered of a specific race, such as Muslim or Arab due to her brown
tonality, but was primarily considered the Virgin Mary and a symbol of Spanish victory.
Despite these symbolic characteristics, the Guadalupe of Mexico is not entirely European
looking; the skin tone is distinct, she has straight hair rather than wavy or curly hair, and her
gown contains decorative flowers that are illustrated two dimensionally similar to much Pre-
Hispanic Mesoamerican art.9 The Virgin of Guadalupe of Extremadura, despite being the
original image to bear the name Guadalupe is clearly not a visual prototype for her Mexican
namesake. Visual artists’ reproductions of the original image of Guadalupe (Mexico), during the
colonial period, could have rejected the characteristics of the Spanish Guadalupe and modified
her tonality to appeal to the criollos in New Spain. During the eighteenth century imagery in
New Spain emerged depicting La Virgen de Guadalupe as a woman with a skin tone strikingly

Lafaye, 222.

Luis Laso de la Vega. The Story of Guadalupe: Luis Laso de la Vega’s Huey tlamahuiçoltica of 1649, Ed. Lisa Sousa,
Stafford Poole, and James Lockhart, (Stanford; Stanford University Press, 1998), 91. Laso de la Vega’s description
of the tilma image in the third part of the Nican Mopohua. “ Her outfit appears to be rose colored, and in the
shadowy parts, it almost seems crimson, embroidered with various kinds of flowers, darted with popcorn flowers
(Izquixochimiminqui: for Izquitl, “popcorn” refers to various white flowers in clusters).”

different from native figures portrayed within paintings. During the rise of criollo devotion to
Guadalupe imagery by criollo painters began to communicate the distinction between her
complexion compared to, for example, Juan Diego. Not all representations of Guadalupe are
visually equal, but most communicate social dominance and political ideals that circulated
during the colonial period. The Mexican Guadalupe may have been a satellite shrine, a copy of
another venerated image to be honored at a different location, of the original Guadalupe in
Spain; however, there was a strong movement in New Spain to make their Guadalupe their
Patroness of Mexico City.

Section 3: Paintings by Criollo Artists, New Spain

Colonial artists in New Spain produced imagery of La Virgen de Guadalupe that depicted
her as a woman with a lighter skin tone when compared to representations of native figures.
After examining paintings by criollo artists I began to notice their manipulations of Guadalupe’s
skin tonality. Why was she painted with a much lighter skin color than the native figures?
Guadalupe's cult gained a wider following in the seventeenth century and can be best understood
in the context of class distinctions, which were largely based on skin color. In the late eighteenth
century, four-fifths of the total population of New Spain were non-white and most constituted the
lower classes. The white, upper fifth of the population was composed of peninsular Spaniards,
derisively nicknamed gachupines, and Mexican-born Spaniards, or criollos.10 Starting in the
early seventeenth century Guadalupe won new adherents among criollos as some clergymen
conceived her cult as one that would help knit Mexico City’s increasingly heterogeneous

Jeanette Favrot Peterson. “The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation?” Art Journal 51, No. 4
(1992), 40.

population.11 Miguel Sanchez went so far as to claim, in Imagen de La Virgen, that the image of
Guadalupe was “the first criollo woman, a native of this land,” and as for the Mexican criollos,
they are nothing less than “sons of the Virgin of Guadalupe”.12 Therefore, it was visually
significant to show Guadalupe not affiliated with the natives, but strictly as a Virgin Mary for
the criollos. As the popularity for Guadalupe spread, the number of paintings devoted to her
increased. The criollo painter, Miguel Cabrera, examined the tilma image of Guadalupe and
described the media which were probably used to create the original image. He also established
a specific style when portraying Guadalupe, by incorporating four cartouches that visually
describe four apparitions from the pious legend. Other colonial artists depicted moments in
history that helped define, for criollos, their devotion to Guadalupe as well as their connection to
the land of New Spain and Mexico City.

One of the first major paintings to associate the devotion of Guadalupe to the criollo
class of Mexico City was a major historical painting commissioned in 1653 by two prominent
criollos, Diego de la Concepcion and Jose Ferrer. Both patrons evidently intended the picture to
substantiate the still undocumented legend that Fray Juan de Zumárraga, Mexico City’s first
archbishop, had personally inaugurated the Virgins original shrine at Tepeyac in 1533.13 The oil
painting titled, Move of the image of Guadalupe to its new Basilica, seventeenth century, depicts
the procession of the original cloth image of the Virgin Mary with highly esteemed participants,
such as friars, secular clergymen, Spanish noblemen, and members of the native nobility to the
Basilica.14 The large painting commemorates a defining moment in the religious life of the
Mexican capital, but it also provides support for criollos, such as Miguel Sanchez, to present

Richard Kagan. Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493-1793, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000), 152.

Jacques Lafaye. Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness 1531-1813,
(Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 250.

Kagan, 162.

Kagan, Figure: 6:10, 164.

Guadalupe as an integrative force capable of knitting Mexico City into a single spiritual unit.15
The portrayal of Guadalupe as a catalyst for criollo nationalism was also expressed in the
paintings done by criollo artists, Miguel Cabrera, José de Robera y Argomanis, Francisco
Anotnio Vallejo, and José Mota, along with other anonymous artists.

Most eighteenth century paintings used visual communication to distinguish certain

differences between natives, such as Juan Diego, and Guadalupe. For instance, the oil painting
by José de Robera y Argomanis, 1737, Imagen de jura de la Virgen de Guadalupe como patrona
de la cuidad de Mexico (Our Lady of Guadalupe as Patroness of Mexico City), depicts Mexico
City behind Juan Diego, La Virgen de Guadalupe is placed as the central figure above an eagle
perched on a cactus, and with four cartouches that show the apparitions, two underneath and the
others above her in each corner (Fig. 6). The native figure on the left is Juan Diego, dressed as
an eighteenth century laborer while offering the mantle a bouquet of flowers that allow for the
miraculous impression. The figure of Juan Diego is accompanied by the personification of the
Americas illustrated as an indigenous Chichimec (read: heathen), dressed in a short skirt and
feather headdress.16 From the mouth of the native figure comes a scroll on which is inscribed
Non fecit taliter omni nationi meaning He hath not dealt so with any nation from Psalm 147, and
at the foot of the canvas is a declaration that the painting commemorates the swearing of the oath
in 1737 when the La Virgen de Guadalupe was acclaimed the principal patron of the city of
Mexico.17 A similar painting, by an unknown artist, depicts the same idea as José de Robera’s.
The oil painting titled, Nustra Señora de Guadalupe de Mexico, Patrona de la Nueva España
(Our Lady of Guadalupe of Mexico, Patroness of New Spain), eighteenth century, has the Virgin
Mary as an elevated central figure (Fig. 7). Underneath the Virgin is the Mexican coat of arms,

Ibid, 164.

Jaime Cuadriello. “Visions from Patmos-Tenochtitlan: The Eagle Woman” (in) Visiones de Guadalupe: Artes de
Mexico, number 29. (Mexico: Artes de Mexico, 1995), 69.

D. A Brading. Mexican Phoenix Our Lady of Guadalupe: Image and Tradition across five centuries, (Cambridge,
UK: Cambridge University Press., 2001), 178.

as if it were her footstool in the midst of the landscape of lakes and ocean.18 Surrounded by
flowering branches of what seem to be roses, the Virgin is attended by two personifications.
Europe, the figure on the left, is garbed in an ermine cape and offers the Virgin a four-tiered
imperial crown. America, the figure on the right is shown as a native, who is attired in the
European style of Cesare Ripa, seems to look on at Guadalupe in an act of surrender, while
declaring the Verse 20 of Psalm 147. Both paintings show striking differences in complexion
between Guadalupe and the native representatives. Her “silvery brown” tonality, mentioned
earlier by Miguel Sanchez, is portrayed in both colonial paintings, and the pigments used differ
greatly from the personifications of America and Juan Diego. The complexion of both
Guadalupes in the colonial paintings seems more light skinned, similar to the personification of
Europe, than brown. These paintings are strong images of criollismo, and criollo attempts to
connect Guadalupe as Patroness of Mexico City. This was inevitably the idea to connect New
Spain/ Mexico City to the upper criollo class and demonstrate their direct linkage to the land
through La Virgen de Guadalupe.

Other eighteenth century paintings had different compositions, and only included
Guadalupe and Juan Diego, however, they further implicated obvious distinctions in skin
tonality. José Mota’s painting titled, Tercera aparicion de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Third
Apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe), 1720, illustrates the episode of the miraculous flowers,
where Guadalupe tells Juan Diego to pick and place them into his tilma (native cloth) (Fig. 8).
The scene most frequently depicted by visual artists is that in which a kneeling Juan Diego lifts
up his humble cloak and shows it brimming with flowers to the Virgin Mary. The Virgin’s
posture is usually portrayed as unchanging throughout the series, but with a few personally
distinctive touches. For example, the details on the flowers give an extra touch of elegance and
also are used to frame Guadalupe.19 The figures shown above Guadalupe seem to be God and

Jaime Cuadriello, 77.

Carmen de Montserrat Robledo Galvan. “Jose Mota Article” (in) Visiones de Guadalupe: Artes de Mexico
number 29, (Mexico: Artes de Mexico, 1995), 70.

the Holy Spirit, suggesting the image of the Virgin Mary is miraculous and holy. When
inspected closely, Juan Diego’s flesh tone and features look far more native than Guadalupe’s.
His skin is really brown, yet his facial structure looks a bit European. On the other hand,
Guadalupe’s skin tone is almost grey, and white, and her hair is wavy and jet black. Even the
youthful angel who holds the crescent moon seems to be European. A similar painting by an
unknown artist, during the colonial period, depicts the same scene from the pious legend and also
shows Juan Diego’s indigenous ethnicity to be far different from Guadalupe’s. Tercera
aparacion de la Virgen de Guadalupe (Third Apparition of the Virgin of Guadalupe), eighteenth
century, shows the kneeling Juan Diego with the roses gathered in his cloak (Fig. 9). Unlike the
previous painting, the presence of the angelic musicians is based on another version of the
apparition where it mentions the Virgin Mary descending to Tepeyac “accompanied by many
celestial spirits, whose harmonious music seemed to the Indian –the first time he saw the Queen
of Angels- to come from tiny, sweet singing birds on the hilltop. They brought roses, freshly
transplanted from wherever they happened to be growing at that time.”20 Guadalupe’s
complexion is again portrayed as a light grayish color, nearly white compared to Juan Diego.
Her skin tone almost matches the angelic figures’ and despite having similar hair to Juan Diego,
there is still a separation between the two. Paintings of Guadalupe as a solo figure, some which
include the small cartouches that represent the four apparitions from the pious legend, were
intended to be copies of the original. However, each varied in terms of the tonality of her
complexion. There were so many images produced throughout the eighteenth century that I will
only focus on five paintings from the museum of the Basilica of Guadalupe, three of which are
by Miguel Cabrera.

The oil painting, dated 1715, Virgen de Guadalupe con cuarto aparaciones (Virgin of
Guadalupe with Four Apparitions), is one of a many colonial paintings that attempted to copy
the original (Fig. 10). Although this painting of Guadalupe boasts the signature of Miguel
Cabrera in the lower right hand corner, researchers have doubted that he is the actual author
because the hand writing and style of the painting does not match. Each cartouche represents the
Robledo Glavan, 70.

four apparitions, and the detail on Guadalupe’s mantle shows extreme technical skill. The style
on the Virgin’s shawl is known as the achurado style which makes the “cloth” appear to have
texture. The golden striping follows a horizontal pattern known as petatillo in the shawl, and a
vertical lluvia pattern in the tunic.21 Guadalupe is shown a bit darker than usual in this painting,
yet when compared to the previous paintings of Juan Diego, she can still be described as “silvery
brown”. Francisco Antonio Vallejo was one of the few colonial artists, like Miguel Cabrera, to
examine the original Guadalupe image and produce paintings to be dispersed throughout New
Spain, and Spain. Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe), 1752, was made six years after
she was declared Patroness of New Spain in 1746 (Fig. 11). This image follows the similar
composition as the original Guadalupe, but does not include the small cartouches of the
apparitions. Here the skin tone is drastically lighter than the possibly forged Cabrera painting,
her hands and face are pudgy, and it seems as if she’s smiling.

Miguel Cabrera was initially a casta painter. Casta paintings attempted to portray the
racial heterogeneity of New Spain and in turn created a racial hierarchy: whites, both Spanish
and criollo, were placed at the top; blacks and Indians towards the bottom; and the various
combinations resulting from miscegenation in between.22 For example, the painting Morisca: De
Espanol y Mulata; Morisca (Caste: from Spaniard and Mulatto), 1763, illustrates the scheme of
the criollo class to distinguish and classify themselves from other races in New Spain (Fig. 12).
The image portrays a family of four; the father being Spanish and the mother a mulatto woman,
mulattos here are defined as mixed Spanish and African ancestry. They are defined as morisca
which means someone who is three-quarters European and one-quarter African.23 The artist
emphasizes the importance of the additional quarter of “white” blood by portraying the
children’s tonality as distinctly lighter than their mother’s. The artist’s choice to portray such a
difference in pigmentation could be related to the decisions made in the series of paintings of

Robledo Glavan, 72.

Kagan, 158.

Carolyn Dean. Editorial correction and conversation. Wednesday May 18, 2008.

Guadalupe. In the oil painting, Virgen de Guadalupe con cuatro apariciones y vista del Tepeyac
(Virgin of Guadalupe with Four Apparitions and view of Tepeyac), 1760, Miguel Cabrera
included five cartouches, one containing a view of the Villa de Guadalupe with the Sanctuary,
the Chapel de Cerrito (Chapel on the Hill), and the Chapel de los Indios (Indians’ Chapel)
(Fig. 13). Despite the landscape not being true to life, the presence of the sanctuary further
authenticated the cult’s influence over Mexico City. This particular reproduction of the original
shows Guadalupe with a more crème skin color, not so much a “silvery brown”. Cabrera
seemed to have catered to the idea of criollismo because he illustrated Guadalupe without a tint
of brown in her skin color, and when inspected closely the small figures of Juan Diego are
colored with a dark brown pigment. The painting Virgen de Guadalupe (Virgin of Guadalupe),
produced around the eighteenth century, also illustrates a solo image of Guadalupe, and follows
the same skin tonality as the previous paintings (Fig. 14). This Guadalupe painting can be
interpreted as a copy of the original image in the Basilica, but Cabrera does not directly
reproduce the same tonality of the original. Instead he uses an almost pale white pigment for the
skin and hands that hardly shows any tints of brown. The wavy black hair seems to subtly frame
the face, and accentuate the lightness of her skin. On April 1751 the glass windows which
protected the image of Guadalupe were opened to allow, Miguel Cabrera, José de Alcíbar, and
José Ventura Arnaéz, to scrutinize and make copies of the image. Around 1756 Miguel Cabrera
produced an important document which described the original image of Guadalupe through the
eyes of the respectable painter. Cabrera also produced three paintings that were replicas of the
original; one copy was for the Archbishop Manuel Rubio y Salinas, one to take to Rome, and for
himself he kept the copy to serve as a model for further copies.24

After the inspection of the tilma image, Cabrera wrote Maravilla Americana that
dedicated eight chapters to the description of the image. Each chapter stresses the following:
one, the survival of the painted image; two, the maguey fiber of which the “canvas” is made;
three, the lack of sizing of the canvas; four, the perfection of the drawing, and the youthful
proportions of the figure which he concludes correspond to a woman of about fifteen years; five,
Brading, 169.

the different media including tempera and oil; six, the rare quality of gold used for the sun’s rays;
seven, the imperfections within the image; and lastly, chapter eight summarizes his descriptions
and concludes that “there can be not a shred of doubt that the unique and strange phenomenon is
not the invention of human hands, but of the Almighty”.25 According to Cabrera’s expert
analysis the face and hands of Guadalupe were done in oil paint without application of sizing but
her tunic, the angel, and mandorla which surrounded her were painted in tempera, a water-based
paint usually used for frescos on walls.26 In conclusion, Cabrera admitted that whatever
reproductions he made would never compare to the marvelous original. Despite having eight
chapters dedicated to the tilma image, Cabrera does not specifically mention a color pigment that
was used for the face and hands. He specifically describes the different media used for the face
and hands, but not the pigmentation of the skin. Whatever the case, Cabrera established a type of
formula which was endlessly reproduced in the eighteenth century. It was common in works by
later artists to link the scenes of the four apparitions, in cartouches, by filling the sides with
flowers or by putti, and to stretch their frames with decorative scrolls. In many copies during
this period, the space beneath the angel was occupied by the scene of Tepeyac and its sanctuary.
The significance of this tradition was that copies incorporated the narrative of the pious legend
within the same frame as the Mexican icon.27 Thus, paintings of the colonial period further
exemplified the idea of criollo devotion to the Guadalupe cult, and visually expressed to criollo
intellectuals, and native commoners, how Guadalupe’s apparition was an opportune sign that the
Virgin Mary had chosen Mexico as her “favored city” and Mexicans as the elect.28 Therefore,

Beatriz Berndt León Mariscal. “Miguel Cabrera Article” (in) Visiones de Guadalupe: Artes de Mexico number 29,
(Mexico: Artes de Mexico, 1995), 72.

Donald Demarest and Coley Taylor. The Dark Virgin: The Book of Our Lady of Guadalupe, (U.S.A: Book
Craftsmen Associates Inc, 1956), 153-155.

Brading, 173.

Peterson (1992), 42.

Guadalupe’s endorsement allowed the linkage of the Psalm 147 text to evoke a sense of

The colonial period produced visual evidence of Guadalupe that did not deliberately
ethnicize her, but only suggests to viewers the strength of the criollo devotion, which ultimately
worked to exclude the native population. The paintings examined did not directly identify
Guadalupe as native, but neither did they portray her as European in skin tone. Colonial artists
portrayed their identities by incorporating details within the paintings, such as the garlands of
roses and the fifth cartouche with the landscape of Mexico City, to perhaps indicate the artists’
acceptance of criollo politics. Colonial visionaries throughout the eighteenth century
manipulated Guadalupe’s complexion perhaps to imply their own acknowledgement of
criollismo. The Guadalupe cult was quickly embraced by the criollos who found in it a
legitimate source for their aspirations and as a form of identity. They now had divine approval
for regarding themselves as the new chosen people whom God had selected through the agency
of the Virgin Mary, or criollismo. She confirmed the identity of a community who resented their
second-class status. Criollismo needed only a catalyst, a symbol on which the people could base
their self-esteem and a tool that could be used to emphasize their uniqueness.29 Visual imagery,
therefore, began to communicate the social and political agenda of the criollos in New Spain to
establish a unique Virgin Mary who was for and of them. Entering the nineteenth century, new
movements began to prepare the declaration of independence from Spain. Imagery of
Guadalupe shifted from implementing the idea of criollo social dominance to be used as a
political symbol in the formation of Mexico.

Stafford Poole. Our Lady of Guadalupe: The Origins and Sources of a Mexican National Symbol, 1531-1797,
(Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1995), 214.


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