By the time the first replica of the tilma was created by Balthasar de Echave Orio (1606), popular veneration of the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe had quickly swept Mexico. The relic was endowed with miraculous properties, including the rescue of Mexico City's inhabitants from a flood in 1621 and an epidemic in 1737. La Guadalupana was conflated with the "Woman of the Apocalypse" described by John the Evangelist as "clothed with the sun and with the moon at her feet." After the establishment of the Company of Jesus in Mexico City in 1571, the Jesuits became ardent champions of the Virgin of Guadalupe, who was embraced as the patroness of Mexico City in 1737.
More complex compositions of La Guadalupana were created in the late 18th century. Their source was a print by Johann Sebastian Klauber (Augsburg: 1700-1768), which was issued about 1747 to commemorate Pope Benedict XIV's declaration naming the Virgin of Guadalupe as the patroness of New Spain and establishing her feast. Surrounded by seven vignettes of her history and miracles, the "Klauber variation" was represented in paintings by Juan Morlete Ruiz (1761 and 1772: private collections) and Sebastián Salcedo (1779: The Denver Art Museum).
Like these exceptional works, the Virgin of Guadalupe by Joseph Marcelino de Rivera y Argonanis, signed and dated 1784, shows Mary receiving seven golden crowns signifying the litanies. Bearers of the coronets include two angels whose crowns have Latin inscriptions ackowledging Mary to be the "Queen of Heaven" and the "Beloved of the Lord," as well as personifications of the Patriarchs (Abraham), the Prophets (David), the Apostles (St. Peter), the Martyrs (St. Stephen); the Holy Virgins (St Eulalia); and the Confessors (St. Paul). Narrative episodes are set in Rococo asymmetrical frames and inscribed by scrolls. Four lower miniature scenes can be identified as the three apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego, and the presentation of the tilma to Fray Zumárraga. The upper vignettes of the canvas illustrate three miracles. On the left is the intervention of the Virgin during the plague at Cocoliztli which decimated the Indian population. Opposite is the legend of a heavy lamp which fell in the sanctuary of Tepeyac without causing injury to the devout. In the center, the Virgin Mary is extolled as the "Star of the Sea" and heavenly protector of a Spanish maritime empire.
Two figures in the foreground symbolize the union of continents: Europe as Pope Benedict XIV with a Solomonic "Mystical Rose"; and America as an Aztec princess in the guise of Tonantzin. The august female not only is portrayed with a crown designating royal lineage, but by the words "Stem of the Mexican Empire" and the historical emblem of Tenochtitlán--an eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak. The molded framework upon which Benedict and the Aztec sit creates a sense of distance from the earth below, a panorama of the holy shrine of Tepeyac is visible. At the bottom of the canvas is a legend which identifies specific structures and landmarks of the sanctuary by Lake Texcoco.
Dr. Barbara von Barghan
Washington, D.C., Sept. 1996