Anonymous (Mexican School, 18th Century)
PROPERTY FROM A DISTINGUISHED FAMILY COLLECTION
Anonymous (Mexican School, 18th Century)

La anunciación

Details
Anonymous (Mexican School, 18th Century)
La anunciación
oil and mother of pearl on gesso on canvas laid on wood (enconchado)
17 ¾ x 26 ¼ in. (45 x 67 cm.)
Provenance
Private collection, Madrid.
Anon. sale, Sotheby's New York, 23 November 1992, lot 22 (illustrated in color).
Acquired from the above by the present owner.

Lot Essay

Derived from the Spanish word for seashell (concha), enconchado is a modern term used to describe the predominantly seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Mexican tradition of inlaying oil paintings with mother-of-pearl, resulting in works of striking luminosity. Inspired by Asian decorative objects brought to the New World by Spanish trading ships beginning in the sixteenth century, enconchados are a remarkable early example of globalization in art.

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the Spanish trading fleet, the Manila Galleon, sailed from the Philippines (then ruled by Spain), carrying mother-of-pearl inlaid furniture, folding screens, porcelain, lacquerware and other luxury goods, to ports in New Spain and the Viceroyalty of Peru in exchange for silver and other precious metals. These Asian imports found their way into the homes of the Colonial elite where they were admired and coveted by those privileged enough to see them. Eventually these intriguing objects were transformed by local artists to suit the tastes of the New World, leading to the development of enconchado painting.

Enconchado painting fused the Asian inlay technique with subject matter that reflected the New World’s desire for Christian iconography, as exemplified by the present work. Here, the artist or artists, as enconchados were often produced by workshops, depicts the Annunciation, one of the most frequently represented Christian subjects in the history of western art. Enconchado artisans often based their work on European prints brought to the New World to encourage the spread of Christianity, and for the Annunciation subject there certainly would have been no dearth of examples from which to choose. The present work follows the traditional European rendering of the Annunciation, showing the Archangel Gabriel interrupting Mary in her private quarters to pronounce that she will bear Jesus Christ as her son. Gabriel holds a lily, a symbol of the Virgin’s purity, while Mary is shown reading from the Bible, a clear indication of her Christian devotion. A radiant dove, representing the Holy Spirit, hovers in the air, while below, a white cat, often said to refer to a medieval saying that the Devil was trapped by Christ’s incarnation in the way that a mouse is trapped by a cat, lingers alongside Mary.

This work reveals the artist’s mastery of both oil painting and the enconchado technique; a sense of depth and perspective is achieved in the painted surfaces of the receding floor and the foreshortening of Mary’s bed while the inlay of mother-of-pearl, integrated throughout the composition, but most notably in Gabriel’s wings and the folds of his and Mary’s drapery, emits a shimmering, otherworldly light that would have been all the more arresting when seen by candlelight by eighteenth-century viewers. More than an Annunciation scene, this work is a beautiful expression of the vibrant fusion of cultures that thrived in the New World and gave rise to a singular art form.
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