Date of Degree

10-2014

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor(s)

Eloise Quinones Keber

Subject Categories

History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology

Keywords

Black Christ, Colonial Latin American art, Devotional sculpture, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama

Abstract

Following the conquest of Mexico in 1521, Spanish conquerors and friars considered it their duty to bring Christianity to the New World. Even before the task of conversion began, they introduced Christian images, like the cross, to the native peoples they first encountered. Eventually, local artists began to create the sacred objects.

This study is the first in-depth, art historical inquiry into the significance of the most prominent Black Christ crucifix images and cults in various regions of Mexico and Central America from the sixteenth to early nineteenth century. It traces the origin and history of the Black Christ, often found in traditional sacred locations among Nahua, Maya, Mestizo, and African converts and in connection with legends describing associated miraculous events that made the sites pilgrimage destinations. It also examines the misunderstood materiality of the crucifixes, which in most cases began as typical European flesh-colored figures that gradually blackened from exposure and ritual activity. The darkened color came to hold a myriad of connotations, and artists created replicas, deliberately painted black, for churches from New Mexico to Panama.

This widespread process of dissemination is examined via reproduced paintings, sculptures, and prints in order to trace how the cult grew and changed in each locale, where the image of the Black Christ was constantly resignified. Some churches saw it as a sign of ancient pre-Hispanic sacrality and power, others as a connection to the famed Christ in Esquipulas, Guatemala; in other cases it mimicked the race of its African devotees. Looking at a traditional Christian image--a crucifix--through the lens of the local reveals how different communities, whether indigenous, mestizo, or African, shaped their spiritual landscape using the Black Christ as a powerful emblem of sanctity.

Esquipulas also emerges as preeminent among all the Black Christ images, cults, and locales considered, highlighting the often overlooked importance of Guatemala as a progenitor, along with Mexico and Peru, of artistic and cultural developments in Colonial Latin America.

 
 

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