Little is known about the original context for this image of the Virgin of Guadalupe which was bought by Henry Wellcome and is now on display in the Medicine Man galleries of the Wellcome Collection.
As a figure of religious devotion, the Virgin of Guadalupe, has a long history. Beginning in medieval Spain, the Virgin of Guadalupe was associated with the Castilian royal family. This association continued with early Spanish colonial activity in Mexico, where devotion to the Virgin was encouraged by Catholic missionaries.
As early as the 16th century, Catholic missionaries recounted indigenous worship of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Anthropologists have suggested these built on and appropriated elements of indigenous, or Aztec, deities. 17th century visual representations of the Virgin of Guadalupe increasingly depicted her as essentially ‘creole’, blending colonial and indigenous heritage, and imbued with symbolic power.
Like St Maurice and Caspar, the tradition of depicting the Madonna as
Black was originally a way of representing the universal claims of
Catholicism. The appropriation of the Virgin by indigenous populations
was therefore especially politically meaningful. Today, the basilica in
Mexico is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world.
Anon, 'The Virgin of Guadalupe'. Oil painting, 1745. Wellcome Collection. Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Hear the curator, Hannah Murphy, talk about this painting:Renaissance Skin · The Virgin of Guadalupe
Strand Campus, Strand, London WC2R 2LSKCLSU shop, Strand