New World Missions

Posted in catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on August 31, 2009

From the San Antonio Museum of Art website:

The Art of the Missions of Northern New Spain

San Antonio Museum of Art, 17 October 2009 3 January 2010


Saint Francis of Assisi, seventeenth century, carved, polychromed, and gilded wood, 51” high (Tepotzotlán, Mexico: Museo Nacional del Virreinato)


Antonio de Torres, “Saint Francis Xavier Baptizing the Nations of the World,” ca. 1720 (Mexico City: Museo del Colegio de San Ignacio de Loyola Vizcaínas)

The Art of the Missions of Northern New Spain is the first exhibition to explore the rich artistic legacy of the Franciscan and Jesuit mission churches in northern Mexico and the American Southwest. An integral part of Spain’s colonization of the New World, the missionary enterprise was integral to the crown’s effort. Franciscans arrived in Mexico shortly after Cortes’s capture of Tenochtitlan, Mexico to spread Christianity and were soon joined by the Dominicans, then the Augustinians, and, later, by the Jesuits. From shortly after the Conquest until Mexico obtained its independence from Spain in 1821, hundreds of missions were founded by the Franciscans and Jesuits in northern reaches of the Viceroyalty, in present-day states of Durango, Chihuahua, Coahuila, Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, Sonora, and Baja California in Mexico; and California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida in the United States. Nearly all of these Franciscan and Jesuit missions were richly decorated with paintings, sculpture, furniture, liturgical objects and liturgical vestments which have received little critical public attention. Many of the works were made by the most prominent artists in Mexico City and elsewhere in New Spain, while others came from Europe and as far away as Asia. Indigenous artists also made works of art found in the missions. In short, there are extensive visual remains of a spiritual and cultural undertaking that was, although part of an immense worldwide effort, quite nearly unique to the New World. The exhibition will include approximately 125 objects from collections in Mexico, the United States, and Europe, including many from the missions themselves, most of which have never left their original locations.

The fully illustrated catalogue in Spanish and English will contain essays by prominent historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and art historians for the U.S. and Mexico. They discuss the art and architecture of the missions; native and Pre-Columbian art and cultures and the reception of European-based art brought to the missions; contrasts in native and Spanish conceptions of space and their impact on Spanish-Indian relations at the missions; the cultural and linguistic diversity of indigenous people of northern New Spain and their effect on missionaries’efforts; and the later impact of the missions on art, literature, and film in the U.S. and Mexico.

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[The Art of the Missions of Northern New Spain (El arte de las misiones del norte de la Nueva España, 1600–1821) was on view at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City earlier this summer. It will travel to the San Antonio Museum of Art, October 17 to January 3, 2010, followed by the Museo de Historia Mexicana, Monterrey; the Centro Cultural de Tijuana, Baja California; and the Oakland Museum of California. The exhibition is co-curated by Michael Komanecky and Clara Bargellini of the Instituto de Investigaciones Estéticas of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City. The July issue of Magazine Antiques featured an instructive article by Michael Komanecky, along with fifteen photographs. The two images used here are from that slideshow.]

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