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Changing Faces: Imagery of Saint Teresa of Ávila

Despite the vast number of images of Saint Teresa from the sixteenth and

seventeenth centuries, little scholarship has been dedicated to the study of these pictorial

representations. Teresa became a central figure in religious images, expressing the ideals

of the Counter Reformation, when she was beatified (1614), canonized (1622), and

ultimately promoted to the status of co-patron with Saint James, known in Spain as

Santiago (1627). Because Saint Teresa was most famous for her mystical visions, her

convent reforms, and her religious writings, artists tended to focus on these

accomplishments when depicting her. However, the imagery of Saint Teresa changed

between 1613 and 1630, reflecting society’s struggle with the reception of a woman as a

symbol of Spanish pride. In particular, the few surviving images of Saint Teresa as co-

patron saint (1617-1630) demonstrate the transformation of her role within Spain’s

modern society.1

In this thesis, I will employ a comparative study of the pictorial representations of

Saint Teresa, including paintings, engravings, and sculptures. I will begin by looking at

the original portrait of Saint Teresa painted by Fray Juan de la Miseria in 1576, a few

years before Saint Teresa’s death (figure 1). I will compare it and other portraits of Saint

Teresa to the images of her theological promotions after her death, up through the “end”

of the Counter Reformation, circa 1650.2 This study will help to reveal the changing

iconography of this highly regarded female saint.

1
Erin Rowe, Disrupting the Republic: Santiago, Teresa de Jesús, and the Battle for the Soul of Spain,
1617-1630, (PhD. diss., Johns Hopkins University. 2005), 7. Rowe gives this range of dates as the time
period of the co-patronage debate. She also divides the debate into two attempts: 1617-1618 and 1626-
1630.
2
Jonathan Brown, Painting in Spain 1500-1700, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 191. Brown
cites the middle of the seventeenth century as the “end” of the Counter Reformation due to the containment
of Protestantism as well as a change in the taste for religious art.

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Saint Teresa reformed the Carmelite Order by creating convents that allowed nuns

to participate in mental prayer in defense of the Church.3 Men believed that women were

less rational than men and thus more likely to be deceived by the devil during acts of

mental prayer.4 Teresa wrote books to defend herself as a religious authority while at the

same time building convents and monasteries. Although the majority of congregations

and religious orders approved of Saint Teresa’s rise to beata in 1614 and saint in 1622,

her promotion to co-patron caused major conflicts. Supporters, in an attempt to persuade

non-supporters, changed the manner in which they discussed Saint Teresa by focusing on

her spiritually manly virtues. The resulting written rhetoric, specifically sermons and

letters, seemed to dictate the changes in the imagery.5 By comparing these texts with

contemporary images, I will examine how teresiano artists, or those in favor of Saint

Teresa as co-patron, manipulated images to advance Saint Teresa’s position. Despite the

efforts of teresiano writers and artists, the co-patronage movement ultimately failed; after

the Pope officially declared Saint Teresa co-patron with Saint James in 1627, the title was

revoked in 1629 due to incessant complaints from santiaguistas, or those in favor of

Santiago.6

The changes in teresiano iconography are evident in the art created for her

beatification and co-patronage. A set of prints by the Flemish artists Adriaen Collaert

and Cornelio Galle from 1613 depicts twenty-five events from Teresa’s life and may

3
Alison Weber, “Spiritual Administration: Gender and Discernment in the Carmelite Reform,” Sixteenth
Century Journal 31, no. 1 (2000):124.
4
Gillian, Ahlgren, Teresa of Avila and the Politics of Sanctity, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), 7.
5
Erin Rowe, “The Spanish Minerva: Imagining Teresa of Avila as Patron Saint in Seventeenth-Century
Spain,” Catholic Historical Review 97, no. 3 (2006): 575.
6
Rowe, “Spanish Minerva,” 574.

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have been used to advance her beatification in Spain (figures 2).7 One engraving portrays

Saint Teresa sitting at her desk writing. While this is the manner most artists depicted

her, the rest of the engravings show Teresa participating in other activities, placing

importance on her religious devotion from a young age to the founding of convents and

monasteries to her death (figure 3). Flanders was ruled by the King of Spain at this time;

although not created in Spain, these images probably would have been widely circulated

throughout the Iberian Peninsula.8 A poster for a poetry contest in Granada, portraying

Teresa and Santiago together, served an entirely different function. It was used to

promote Teresa as co-patron in 1618 and features Saint Teresa and Santiago defending

Spain, which is represented by the Spanish coat of arms (figure 3). To my knowledge,

this is the only image of Saint Teresa and Santiago together that has been published, and

it will play an important role in my study.9 Few images survive due to a papal decree in

1629 declaring that all images of Saint Teresa as co-patron be destroyed after the Pope

nullified her co-patron status.10 Nevertheless, these images are important because they

do not simply exemplify Teresa as the writer inspired by God, but rather they depict a

female with religious and political agency.

In my thesis, I will also place the images of Saint Teresa in a larger historical

context by examining the Counter Reformation and issues of gender. This will involve

not only a consideration of the decrees of the Council of Trent, but also of artistic

treatises from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Francisco Pacheco’s Arte de la

7
Adriaen Collaert and Cornelio Galle, Estampas de la vida de la Santa Madre de Jesús, Madrid: Carlos
Sanz, 1962. I will be using this modern facsimile to view this set of prints. The original set was published
in 1613 in Antwerp.
8
Brown, 110.
9
Rowe, “Spanish Minerva,” 590. Rowe cites this image in her article.
10
Rowe, “Spanish Minerva,” 574-575.

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pintura (completed 1638, published 1649), and Vicente Carducho’s Diálogos de la

pintura: su defensa, origen, esencia, definición, modos y diferencias (1633), are relevant

because they discuss Counter-Reformatory art, including images of female saints, as well

as portraiture.11 Pacheco wrote an entire treatise in favor of Saint Teresa as co-patron of

Spain, and I hope to link his discussion of Saint Teresa as potential co-patron with

observations in his artistic treatise.12 I will also research women’s role in society in the

sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Spain in order to explore how men and women

regarded Saint Teresa.

This thesis will apply a socio-historical approach to studying the images of Saint

Teresa. While secondary sources will be employed, I will make extensive use of

primary sources: the images themselves, but more specifically sermons celebrating

Teresa’s beatification, canonization, and co-patron status. While doing research in the

Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid, I read first-hand accounts concerning the festivals and

sermons celebrated throughout Spain in honor of Saint Teresa’s beatification,

canonization, and co-patron status.13 Saint Teresa’s own writings, including her Vida

(completed 1565) and Fundaciones (completed 1582), which offer autobiographical

accounts of her religious thoughts and visions, will help explain why her supporters, who

also would have read these texts, felt that she should be canonized and later to co-patron

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I will be using these modern editions for my research. Francisco Pacheco, Arte de la pintura, Edición,
introducción y notas de Bonaventura Bassegoda i Hugas, Madrid: Cátedra, 2001. Vicente Carducho,
Diálogos de la pintura: su defense, origen, escencia, definicion, modos, y diferencias, Edición de Francisco
Calvo Serrallar, Madrid: Turner, 1979.
12
Francisco Pacheco, “En fabor de Santa Teresa de Jesus,” 282r -88v. Biblioteca Capitular y Colombina de
Sevilla: 85-4-2, 1628.
13
Some of these sources include: Cristóbal Avendaño, “En la fiesta del Patronato de nuestra preciosa
Madre Santa Theresa de Jesus,” In Libro Intitulado, otra tomo de sermons, para muchas festividades de los
santos, Folio 173r-90r. Valladolid: Ian de Rueda, 1629. Copia de un decreto de las Cortes de Castilla, en
que reciben a la gloriosa madre santa Teresa de Iesus por Patrona destos Reynos, 1627. Diego de San
José, Compendio a las solenes fiestas que en toda España hicieron en la Beatificacion de N. M. S. Teresa
de Iesus fundadora de la Reformacion de Descalzos y Descalzas de N. S. del Carmen, Madrid: Alonso
Martín, 1615.

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of Spain.14

Surprisingly little has been written on the imagery of Saint Teresa, and no one has

focused on the few surviving examples of images of Saint Teresa as co-patron. One of

the earliest examples of Teresian scholarship, from 1949, by Margaretta Salinger, was a

brief essay with an overview of a few images of Saint Teresa.15 Laura Gutíerrez Rueda’s

essay from 1964 for the Revista de Espiritualidad offered an in-depth discussion of the

iconography of Saint Teresa. Gutíerrez Rueda explored a wide array of paintings and

sculptures of Saint Teresa as a youth, on her death bed, experiencing visions, and writing

at her desk. No images depicting Saint Teresa as co-patron were included, but Gutíerrez

Rueda laid a solid foundation for the study of images of Saint Teresa.16 More recently,

Christopher Wilson has focused on the iconography of Saint Teresa in Colonial Mexico.

He has investigated how Mexican artists borrowed and took inspiration from Spanish

traditions of illustrating Saint Teresa, and then changed them to fit their own spiritual

needs and motives.17 Erin Rowe, a historian, has examined the co-patronage debate and

has recovered one of the few extant images of Saint Teresa and Santiago together (figure

4). Rowe has explored how and why teresianos altered sermons, metaphors, and images

of Saint Teresa from 1617 to 1630 to make a stronger case for a woman as co-patron of

Spain.18 I will rely heavily on Rowe’s research, but I hope to expand on her findings by

relating the history to the images of Saint Teresa.

14
I will use this translation for my research. E. Allison Peers, The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Jesus,
Volumes 1-3, Translated and edited from the edition of Silverio, London: Sheed and Ward, 1973.
15
Margaretta Salinger, “Representations of Saint Teresa,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8, no.
3 (Nov. 1949): 97-108.
16
Laura Gutiérrez Rueda, “Ensayo de iconografía Teresiana” Revista de Espiritualidad no. 90 (1964): 3-
168.
17
Christopher Wilson, “Saint Teresa of Ávila’s Martyrdom: Images of Her Transverberation in Mexican
Colonial Painting,” Anales del Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas no. 74-75 (1999): 211-233.
18
Rowe, “Spanish Minerva,” 575.

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This thesis represents an expansion of a paper I wrote for Tanya Tiffany’s spring

colloquium, and I expect to finish by May 2009. Having completed some research while

in Spain, I hope to obtain other hard-to-find sources soon. These include Pacheco’s

treatise, two books in French on Teresian iconography, as well as additional sermons and

letters concerning her beatification, canonization, and co-patron status. As part of my

investigation, I will continue looking for images of Saint Teresa that will contribute to

my study. In addition to this continued research, I am taking a Spanish literature course

with Dr. John McCaw entitled “The World of Don Quixote.” This class will not only

expand my knowledge of Spanish history and literature, but also help with reading and

translating Spanish texts from the time.

The study of these images of Saint Teresa from 1576 until 1650 will shed a new

light on Teresian iconography and devotion. At the same time this thesis will explore

how history, literature, and art functioned together to record and shape changing

perceptions of both gender and religion. Saint Teresa’s beatification, canonization, and

co-patronage emphasized Spain’s changing modern society when a woman’s status in

both religion and society was raised to that of a man’s, if only for a moment.

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Figure 1: Saint Teresa of Ávila, 1576
Fray Juan de la Miseria

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Figure 2: Frontispiece to Vita B. Virginis Teresiae a Jesu ordinis Carmelitarum
excalcaetroum piae restauratricis, 1613
Adriaen Collaert and Cornelio Galle
Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (ER 1638)

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Figure 3: Saint Teresa’s Vision of the Virgin and Saint Joseph, 1613
Adriaen Collaert and Cornelio Galle
Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (ER 1638)

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Figure 4: Poster that accompanies the Iusta Poetica en el Convento Real de los
Santos Martires de la Ciudad de Granada – dia de la gloriosa Virgen Santat Teresa,
fundadora del Carmelo, 1618
Unknown Artist
Biblioteca Nacional de Madrid (MS 4011)

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los santos. Folio 173r-90r. Valladolid: Ian de Rueda, 1629.

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Peers, E. Allison. The Complete Works of St. Teresa of Jesus, Volumes 1-3. Translated
and edited from the edition of Silverio. London: Sheed and Ward, 1973.

Rowe, Erin. Disrupting the Republic: Santiago, Teresa de Jesús, and the Battle for the
Soul of Spain, 1617-1630. Diss. Johns Hopkins University. 2005. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University, 2005.

Rowe, Erin. “The Spanish Minerva: Imagining Teresa of Avila as Patron Saint in
Seventeenth-Century Spain.” Catholic Historical Review XCVII, no. 3, (October
2006): 574- 596.

Rowe, Erin. “St. Teresa and Olivares: Patron Sainthood, Royal Favorites, and the Politics
of Plurality in Seventeenth-Century Spain.” Sixteenth Century Journal, 37 no. 3
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Art Bulletin 8, no. 3 (Nov. 1949): 97-108.

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Beatificacion de N. M. S. Teresa de Iesus fundadora de la Reformacion de
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Reform.” Sixteenth Century Journal 31, no. 1 (2000): 123-146.

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Transverberation in Mexican Colonial Painting.” Anales del Instituto de
Investigaciones Estéticas no. 74-75 (1999): 211-233

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