Pinturas de Fe: The Retablo Tradition in Mexico & New Mexico

Jan. 12 - Apr. 6, 2008

St. Anthony of Padua - Maker unknown; h. 14 x w. 10 inches; Private collection Our Lady of Guadalupe - (Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe) Maker unknown; h. 13 3/4 x w. 9 5/8 inches; oil on tin; Private collection
St. Anthony of Padua St. Angelo the Martyr

Pilgrimage, procession, and the creation of home altars and shrines are ancient religious practices that endure today in many cultures around the world. This exhibition tells the story of one such tradition as it evolved in the Americas from the time of the Spanish Conquest to the present day. The Mexican retablo tradition blossomed during the 17th through 19th centuries. Originally, the Spanish conquerors introduced painted religious imagery during the conversion of the indigenous peoples to Catholicism. Retablos soon became popular objects of personal veneration. Workshops specialized in specificimages believed to provide protection, health, and prosperity. The exhibition also includes ex votos, small devotional paintings related to a personal crisis requesting a favor or offering thanks.

The popularity of retablos and ex votos peaked in the late 19th century with the introduction of tin, an inexpensive surface to paint on. The tradition traveled north to New Mexico, where artisans painted religious images on wooden panels. By the turn of the 20th century, the availability of inexpensive prints destroyed the market for painted retablos. Inspired by the Chicano movement of the 1960s, New Mexican artists led a retablo revival; the devotional objects remain a vibrant and popular expression of faith. Today, individual artists carry on the tradition of hand painted retablos, and contemporary artists from diverse cultural backgrounds draw creative inspiration from this popular art form. Objects are on loan from museum and private collections including the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, the Museum of International Folk Art, New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico. All text panels and object labels are in English and Spanish. The exhibition also includes a resource guide, catalogue, several publications, a DVD, and photomurals. The exhibition was organized by independent curator and scholar Lane Coulter.