New Acquisition: Two Paintings by Nicolás Enríquez

April 25, 2012

These two oil-on-copper paintings are among the finest by Nicolás Enríquez (1704–c. 1790), a distinguished yet understudied eighteenth-century New Spanish (Mexican) painter. They depict scenes from the life of the Virgin: her marriage to Joseph officiated by the Jewish priest and the adoration of the three kings who kneel before the Christ child as they offer him prodigious gifts. These are history paintings in the grand style (gran maniera), designed to tell a story through complex but clear narrative elements and the forceful expressiveness of the figures. Yet, the profusion of ornamentation, such as the delicate floral motifs that pepper the compositions, reflects a typically New Spanish sensibility. Enríquez was a member of the first academy of painters established in Mexico around 1722 by the brothers Juan and Nicolás Rodríguez Juárez (1667–1734; 1675–1728). A primary goal of this group of cultured painters was to gain recognition of the nobility of their art and to set themselves apart from the mechanical arts.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Marriage of the Virgin, 1749, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

Enríquez developed a great reputation for his highly finished oil paintings on copper, a support that he used extensively throughout his career. The tradition of copper painting first developed in Italy and Flanders in the sixteenth century, and it was quickly introduced to New Spain, where it became more common than in Europe, especially in the eighteenth century. The smoothness of copper allowed for the almost seamless application of paint, creating dazzling visual effects and granting the paintings a jewel-like quality.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Marriage of the Virgin (detail), 1749, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

The rich floral textile in The Marriage of the Virgin, for instance, is a rare pictorial detail despite how prevalent it was to decorate church interiors with imported tapestries and Asian rugs. Equally unusual in New Spanish painting is the detailed architectural rendition of the church. This was a well-established genre in seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish painting, which Enríquez must have known (either through imported paintings or architectural manuals), allowing him to showcase his skill in rendering a realistic illusion of space.

Nicolás Enríquez, The Adoration of the Kings with Donor, 1741, purchased with funds provided by Kelvin Davis, Lynda and Stewart Resnick, Kathy and Frank Baxter, Beth and Josh Friedman, and Jane and Terry Semel through the 2012 Collectors Committee

In addition, the works are also important art historically. The Adoration of the Kings with Donor is modeled after a painting by the celebrated Mexican painter Juan Rodríguez Juárez in the famous Altar of the Kings of Mexico City’s cathedral, dedicated to the Spanish monarchs in 1737. While in his painting Rodríguez Juárez includes a self-portrait, Enríquez inserts in the lower left the portrait of Mexico City’s Viceroy Pedro de Castro y Figueroa, duke of La Conquista, who arrived in Mexico in 1740 and died tragically of yellow fever a year after taking his post. Standing near a fully decked horse (a quintessential element of the entry ceremonies of incoming viceroys to Mexico), the viceroy is depicted looking out sternly at the viewer. The two kneeling children are in all likelihood portraits of the viceroy’s sons. A remarkable fact is that the viceroy was buried in the Altar of the Kings, which emphasizes his loyalty to the king and makes this posthumous painting particularly poignant. But referencing Juan Rodríguez Juárez’s painting is also an important art-historical gesture: It represents how the tradition of local painting within Mexico itself was as significant as the use of European sources in creating new and vibrant compositions.

Enríquez’s paintings are exceptional because of their unusually large scale (most copper paintings are much smaller) and their excellent state of conservation. The two works will feature prominently in an exciting upcoming exhibition of eighteenth-century Mexican painting that I am organizing with a group of colleagues from Mexico and Spain.

Ilona Katzew, curator and department head, Latin American art


The Influence of Japanese Art on Colonial Mexican Painting

January 12, 2012

Before Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World closes in just a couple of weeks, I wanted to share some of my favorite pieces. It may come as a surprise to some, but the relationship between Japan and Latin America dates back to the seventeenth century.  Japanese folding screens were first introduced to New Spain as exports by way of the Manila Galleon trade and by Japanese embassies that brought them to Mexico as gifts in the early decades of the seventeenth century. Known in Spanish as biombo–a Portuguese and Spanish transliteration of the Japanese word for folding screen, byōbu–the Mexican artform was inspired by its Japanese prototype. The versatility of the folding screen contributed to its quick adaptation to daily life; because the biombo was freestanding, portable, multi-paneled, and could be painted on both sides, it provided an ideal surface on which to paint. Biombos transformed spaces into definable spaces, and were indispensable elements in domestic interiors. Today, folding screens are such an ubiquitous part of everyday life frequently used to divide rooms and spaces, as they were originally intended.

Night Festival of Tsushima Shrine, Japan, early Edo period, Kan’ei era, 1624–44, gift of Camilla Chandler Frost, David and Margaret Barry, Lenore and Richard Wayne, Leslie Prince Salzman, Friends of Heritage Preservation, Gwen and Peter Norton, and the East Asian Art Council, in honor of Robert T. Singer. On view in the Pavilion for Japanese Art.

The unique and innovative format of the folding screen provided new ways for artists to depict subject matter. It differed from the usual format and iconography of an altarpiece, devotional painting, or portrait, and was intended for domestic use. Freed from the constraints of the Catholic Church, artists experimented with the genre of secular art and utilized the full artistic potential of the folding screen.

The folding screen was a favorite format for the depiction of historical scenes. On view in the exhibition is a remarkable example of colonial painting that depicts the conquest of Mexico on the front, and the viceregal capital of Mexico City on the back. Various scenes of the conquest play out over the ten front panels, among them the meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma, the siege of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, and the assassination of Moctezuma. The artists’ incredible attention to detail in the rendering of the human figures and their elaborate costumes invites the viewer to linger over each scene on the screen.

Folding Screen with the Conquest of Mexico (front), Mexico, late 17th century, collection of Vera Da Costa Autrey, Mexico, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/ LACMA

On the back of the screen, the transformation of the Aztec capital into the orderly Spanish colonial city replete with the city’s numerous churches and plazas invites the viewer to meander among the streets, searching the legend at the bottom left for familiar sights within the city’s boundaries.

View of the City of Mexico (back), Mexico, late 17th century, collection of Vera Da Costa Autrey, Mexico. photo © 2011 Museum Associates/ LACMA

Folding Screen with the Four Continents, Mexico, late 17th century, Museo de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain, photo by Sofía Sanabrais

The second folding screen on view in the exhibition includes allegorical depictions of the four continents as women riding golden chariots, flanked by the mythological figures of Ceres and Flora. Before the “discovery” of America, Europeans imagined the rest of the unknown world to be inhabited by Amazons, cannibals, and other unimaginable creatures. America, the second figure to the right, is pulled by unicorns, fantastical beasts, and behind her is a scene of indigenous cannibalism, an obvious reference to the misconception of the lack of civilization in the Americas.

Folding Screen with Indian Wedding and Paseo de Ixtacalco (front), Mexico, second half of the 18th century, Buch Molina Collection, photo by Sofia Sanabrais

The last folding screen in the exhibition portrays a slice of daily life in colonial Mexico. This scene takes place in Ixtacalco, a village in the environs of Mexico City known for its canals, canoes and verdant landscape that served as a respite from the hectic pace of the viceregal capital. This remarkable example of eighteenth century painting provides the viewer with a glimpse into the leisurely activities enjoyed by the various social classes of colonial society. In the upper right, an indigenous couple celebrates their wedding, revelers in flower-laden canoes enjoy music performed by musicians, and a family sits along the banks of the canal enjoying a meal.

Folding Screen with Indian Wedding and Paseo de Ixtacalco (back), Mexico, second half of the 18th century, Buch Molina Collection, photo © 2011 Museum Associates/LACMA by Yosi Pozeilov

The paintings on the back of this folding screen were unbeknownst to us until after the exhibition design was complete. The paintings depict Indians performing various activities, women, children and various examples of local flora and fauna. It was a delightful discovery!

Sofía Sanabrais, Assistant Curator of Latin American Art


An Aztec Offering on View in Contested Visions

January 4, 2012

The Aztec cache known as Ofrenda 7, on view in the exhibition Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World, is one of some 130 offerings that were discovered within the Aztec’s Templo Mayor in recent years.

The Aztecs buried offerings that came from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Bringing objects from these remote areas demonstrated the Aztec’s reach and power. The objects also functioned as a microcosm of the universe. Offering 7, recovered from the Huitzilopochtli side of the twin pyramid, dates to a construction period associated with emperor Moctezuma I (r. 1440–69) or Axayactl (r. 1469–81). Its contents—largely aquatic material such as seashells, freshwater fish, coral, and reptiles—evoke the layers of the cosmos, from the watery underworld to the surface of the earth. The offering also includes effigies of Xiuhtecuhtli and Tlaloc, the gods of fire and rain, who together preside over the gift and establish cosmic order.

To install Offering 7, the Museo del Templo Mayor’s archeaologist Fernando Carrizosa Montfort and chief conservator María Barajas Rocha spent several days at LACMA. Here, Mr. Carrizosa Montfort explains the complex meanings of this remarkable piece during the installation at LACMA.

The Latin American department


Virgin of Guadalupe at LACMA

December 12, 2011

La Virgen de Guadalupe is the most significant icon of Mexico and Mexican identity—and she is loved like no other. She embodies two cultures coming together and is called the Queen of the Americas.

In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego, a recently converted Indian at the hill of Tepeyac, which was the site of the destroyed Aztec temple of the goddess Tonatzin. The Basilica of Guadalupe, which was built on the site of her apparition, is one of four Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world.

Take a look at this painting in LACMA’s permanent collection by artist Manuel de Arellano. There is a barely legible inscription above the signature—Tocada al original (after the original) which means that the artist based his painting on the original in the Basilica. You can learn more about the painting from an Unframed post curator Ilona Katzew wrote upon the painting’s acquisition in 2009; you can also download this image in high resolution from our free image library.

Manuel de Arellano, Virgin of Guadalupe and the Apparitions to Juan Diego, 1691, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund

Here is another image of la Virgen from LACMA’s collection (also previously written about in detail on Unframed), currently on view in Contested Visions in the Spanish Colonial World.

Miguel González, Virgin of Guadalupe and Her Apparitions to Juan Diego, c. 1698, purchased with funds provided by the Bernard and Edith Lewin Collection of Mexican Art Deaccession Fund

Mexican author Carlos Fuentes says that a Mexican can give up the church, but not la Virgen de Guadalupe. She has inspired unions, soccer teams, politicians, and truckers. Ask anyone who is a Guadalupano/a—whether they are religious or not, they will say that she inspires compassion, love, and a belief that differing cultures can come together. Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldua writes, “She is like my race—a synthesis of the old world and the new, of the religion and culture of the two races in our psyche, the conquerors and the conquered.” Food for thought for the next time you see her on a key chain or on someone’s arm—maybe it’s not just kitsch.

Alicia Vogl Saenz, senior education coordinator


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