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The Virgin of Guadalupe, a painting by the colonial artist Juan Correa

"No estoy yo aquí, que soy tu madre? "

The Virgin of Guadalupe, the dusky patron saint and beloved icon of Mexico, has been portrayed thousands of times in many different ways since her first appearance to the humble Indian, now saint, Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531.

According to legend, after several encounters with the Virgin - known as "apparitions" - during which She made known her wish to have a temple erected in her honor on the hillside - Juan Diego finally convinced the Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga of her authenticity by opening his cloak (tilma), in which he was carrying roses given him by the Virgin, to reveal that it was imprinted with her image.

This miraculous image was quickly standardized and reproduced. Most likely based on an image of the Virgin of the Apocalypse that may have resided in a small shrine raised by the Franciscans at the foot of the Tepeyac hill, she is invariably depicted in accordance with her description in the Book Of Revelation as: "clothed by the sun and standing on the moon, and upon her head a crown of stars"

Radiating the rays of the sun, and with her head crowned or ringed by stars, she stands above a crescent moon, sometimes with an angel, but often with a serpent or dragon beneath her feet - possibly a reflection of her early Nahuatl namecoatl axopeuh: "she who tramples the serpent".

Originally viewed as speaking for the indigenous people of a land newly conquered and colonized by Europeans, by the mid-1600s - mainly under Jesuit sponsorship - the Virgin of Guadalupe was embraced by all classes in Mexico, initially as a symbol of emergent Mexican consciousness and later national independence.

A common feature of the guadalupana icon from the earliest times, as is seen in the Correa painting, was the inclusion of subsidiary scenes of the four apparitions, here placed in the corner ovals. At the top these illustrate Juan Diego's first meeting with the Virgin on the way to church, and his second encounter, accompanied by angels (shown right). Below, Juan Diego kneels before the Virgin at his third meeting when she proffers him a bouquet of roses - in itself a miraculous event since roses did not bloom at that time of year. Finally, Archbishop Zumarraga is shown on his knees worshipping the image on the tilma held up by Juan Diego.

A cartouche at the base of the painting shows the colonial basilica of Guadalupe and the ceremonial causeway (Calzada de los Misterios) leading up to it, with the snowcapped volcanoes of Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl in the background.

Correa's signature is inscribed beside it (shown left)


Juan Correa the Elder (c.1645 - 1716)

This Mexican-born mulatto artist rose to prominence and prosperity in the late 1600s as one of the most productive and accomplished painters of his generation. He and his workshop undertook many of the largest religious commissions of the time, including important works for the metropolitan cathedral in Mexico City. His numerous paintings are widely represented in churches and collections across Spain and north America.

Although his style evolved during his long career, he is considered one of the foremost exponents of the "luminous" Baroque manner - an eclectic, uniquely American style that combined traditional European Mannerist and High Baroque elements with a native, often naive naturalism to create a dynamic and richly colored style that was very much in tune with the nascent Mexican nationalism of his time.

The guadalupana shown above, which hangs in the lobby of St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica, California, is signed and dated 1712. The painting is one of several similar late works by Correa, possibly even the last he completed. Its glowing color and the looser, more decorative manner associated with his later style are here necessarily muted by the iconic nature of the subject.