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Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), February 15, 1729

Unidentified artist
Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe), February 15, 1729
oil on canvas
50.88 x 37.63 inches (129.22 x 95.57 cm)
Donated by Mr. Ignacio Aranguren (Class of 1952), his wife Pirri, and their sons Luis (Class of 1984), Ignacio (Class of 1985), and Santiago (Class of 1992)

Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is the Virgin Mary as she appeared in 1531 to Juan Diego, an Aztec convert to Christianity. The visions occurred at Tepeyac, a hill northeast of Mexico City. The visions are described in the Nican mopohua (Here It Is Recounted), an anonymous account written in Nahuatl, the Aztec language, and published in 1649. The earliest painting containing the apparitions is dated 1668.

In the early 1700s, Guadalupan devotion became popular after the Virgin was invoked to halt plagues and droughts in Mexico City. Since then, the Catholic Church in Mexico has taken great pains to preserve the purity of Guadalupan images in order to maintain proper devotion and discourage idolatry. The resulting stylization tends to make the images static, but the accomplished and confident artist who made this painting managed to give the Virgin a touching, lifelike appearance. In the classic pose associated with the story, she wears a crown and stands on a crescent moon supported by an angel. The radiance of the sun surrounds her, and the Holy Spirit hovers overhead as a dove. Castilian roses connecting the corners of the composition and four simple oval frames containing apparitions associated with the narrative are seventeenth-century Baroque features that the artist rendered with ease and facility.

The apparitions read from left to right, top to bottom, and tell a simple story. The first time the Virgin appears to Juan Diego, she instructs him to tell the bishop that she, mother of the true God, wants a chapel built in her honor on Tepeyac. Juan visits Bishop Zumárraga, who rebuffs him and tells him not to return without proof. He attempts to avoid the Virgin, but she stops him and tells him to pick flowers that are blooming on top of Tepeyac. Juan dutifully collects blossoms in his cloak and brings them to the Virgin, who gathers them up in her hands, replaces them in the cloak, and tells Juan to hurry to the bishop’s house. When he opens his cloak before the bishop, a miraculous painting of Mary is revealed upon it. The stubborn bishop falls on his knees in awe, and the chapel is built.

Mexicans—Indians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and atheists alike—recognize Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe as the emblem of their national identity, mexicanidad. The name Guadalupe is derived from a pilgrimage site in Extremadura, Spain, where a miraculous early fourteenth-century apparition of the Virgin took place. The Spanish Virgin of Guadalupe and her chapel expressed Christian resistance to long centuries of Moorish occupation; Guadalupe means “river of wolves” and may refer to the Moorish period. Many early conquistadors of the New World came from Extremadura, and it was logical for them to return to her shrine, as well as to bring her veneration to their new home.