Artist: Anonymous-Spanish Colonial
Commentary by Marian Wardle
Curator of American Art
This painting lay neglected in our museum storage until graduate students in a curatorial seminar suggested that it be part of this exhibition. The title of the painting, Joan of Arc, did not seem right. I thought it might be a Spanish colonial piece as our records showed that it came out of Mexico in 1914.
Later, while visiting Buenos Aires, I went to a Spanish Colonial museum and was surprised to see a similar painting there. The female form with wings, plumed helmet, and boots, bore the inscription “Michael,” and the label said “San Miguel.” Wondering how this could be, I contacted Spanish Colonial experts who all agreed that our painting is a fine 18th-century Mexican colonial painting of Michael the Archangel. Further investigation revealed that in the Catholic faith angels are androgynous—they can be male or female. Also, our painting definitively identifies the figure as Michael through the scroll going up the cross with the Latin words, “Quis ut deus,” or “Who like God,” that only appear on images of Michael. Additionally, depictions of the sun and the moon appear on the pectorals of the armor, a convention used for portrayals of Michael only in the New World.
Our fascinating painting needed much conservation. We sent it to the Western Center for the Conservation of Fine Arts in Denver where it was tediously removed from a board it was glued to before being relined, cleaned, and inpainted (see images below). Our fabrication department then constructed the frame. We are pleased with the results and happy to have identified the subject.
For more on this painting’s story, click here.
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