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Juan Pedro López, Our Lady of Guidance

A conversation between Dr. Kathryn Santner and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank in front of Juan Pedro López, Our Lady of Guidance, c. 1765–70, oil on canvas, Caracas, Venezuela, 41.325 x 26.5 inches (Collection of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation) This video was made possible through the generous support of the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation. Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

(lighthearted bluesy piano music) - [Kathryn] We're here in Chicago at the Carl & Marilynn Thoma Foundation, looking at a painting of the Virgin and Child from 18th-century Venezuela. It's made by one of the most well-known artists, Juan Pedro Lopez. The Virgin Mary is wearing a very elaborate dress as well as a mantle. Both of them are blue, but the mantle is this beautiful turquoise that is ornamented with golden embroidery. - [Lauren] And likewise, the dress, that's in this much paler blue, is decorated with flowers and more gold embroidery. Around the collar of the dress, there are gems that have been fastened to it and maybe pearls. The dress also has lace sleeve. And her face is framed by this delicately painted veil. You can see individual brushstrokes that gives it this sense of its translucency. And holding the veil to her face is a very elaborate golden frame that also has different gems and pearls fastened to it. - [Kathryn] In her arms, she cradles the Christ Child who holds his fingers in a position of benediction, and in his left arm, cradles a globus cruciger. Like the Virgin, he's dressed in contemporary fashions, wearing a three-piece suit and stockings, all richly-embroidered with gold thread and black shoes with buckles. - [Lauren] And in her other hand, she's holding a golden scepter, the top of which has this sunburst pattern that seems to pick up the rays of light that create the halo around Christ's head. And look at the crown that's being placed on her head by two putti, or cherubs, that are flanking either side of her. She is a queen of heaven. The crown is encrusted with gemstones. It's topped by a small cross. - [Kathryn] And we see the two of them standing together in a carved wooden niche that would've formed part of the main altar, or retablo, of a church. And beneath her feet, we see the platform that she's standing on, all indications that we're looking at a statue. - [Lauren] This is actually a painting of a miraculous statue. - [Kathryn] In 1688, a ship's captain named Juan Delgado and his crew were traveling from Veracruz in Mexico to Maracaibo on the coast of Venezuela, and they became aware of an enemy ship. Worried for their safety and the integrity of their cargo, they appealed to Saint Rita, Patroness of Lost Causes. Saint Rita guided them to safety, but in the process, they became lost in a fog. In the sea, they discovered a box floating. And inside the box was this statue of Our Lady of Guidance, who brought them safely to harbor in La Guaira. Upon arriving in Caracas, the statue was given to the Archbishop, and a few years later, it was placed in the Church of San Mauricio. - [Lauren] The Virgin is shown standing on a pedestal, and that is how the statue was and still is displayed within the church space. So this painting belongs to a genre known as statue paintings, which was very common at this time throughout the Spanish viceroyalties. And it's a reference to paintings that are showing statues often standing within an architectural space. The statue in San Mauricio was actually cared for by a confraternity who would have dressed her regularly, changed our her outfits, would have also adorned her with crowns and are types of objects. - [Kathryn] This confraternity was one of three Afrodescendant confraternities active at San Mauricio. - [Lauren] The statue painted here is, in some ways, static. Her body is linear. We get the sense of verticality with her body as we follow her blue clothing upwards. Her crown is almost touching the top. And yet, the space that she's standing in has this interesting dynamic quality to it. There isn't any straight edges within this niche. We're seeing curves. And at the top of the niche, we see this scalloped design with this undulating line that encases the two putti at the top. And it's this interesting dynamic between both undulating lines and the verticality of both the Christ Child and the Virgin Mary. - [Kathryn] The painting itself has a rounded shape at the top that is echoed in the designs of the rocaille frame. - [Lauren] Look at how the forms on her dress mimic some of the curves in the pilasters, or columns, in the niche behind her, where we can see Lopez's loose brushwork to indicate some type of floral or decorative ornament that seems to writhe across the columns. We can see how that's being picked up in how the dress itself is painted. So this type of Rococo design was very in vogue. At this point, the Spanish viceroyalties are now controlled by the Borbones, or the Bourbon dynasty in Spain. So around 1700, what had been the Hapsburg dynasty ended, and in its place, you have the rise of the Borbones who had a connection to France. And with that came this Frenchification, this greater influence of French taste throughout Spain and its dominions as well, things like the Rococo-inspired niche in which she stands, these undulating forms, and even the color choices that Lopez is using, where we have these pale blues and silvery grays, the red outfit of the Christ Child that veers in a pink direction, and even the pink and turquoise swathes of cloths that surround the two putti at the top. These all indicate to me that this is part of that French taste, that Rococo style. What's also amazing about this painting is that we actually have its original frame. The original frame was made by Domingo Gutierrez, who, like Lopez, came from a family from the Canary Islands. - [Kathryn] Lopez and Gutierrez collaborated throughout their artistic careers. It's very uncommon to find paintings from this period that still retain their original frames, particularly one as fine as this. - [Lauren] And this painting tells us so much about the global interconnectedness of Venezuela in the 18th century. (lighthearted bluesy piano music)