By Father Guillermo Treviño and Hola Iowa Staff
A unique painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe is at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. It was made by Mexican artist Andres de Islas, active during the 1750’s through 1773, and is part of the original museum gift from C. A. Ficke to the city of Davenport that he acquired in 1901 in Mexico City. During the same time, the early 1900’s, many Mexican immigrants came to Iowa and Illinois escaping the Mexican Revolution looking for a better life for them and their families and to fill the labor shortage caused by the U.S. entry into World War I.
It is a very important painting to discover as it is part of the Mexican Colonial Art Collection at the Figge. The image is important because it helps rediscover our culture and creates the sense that she accompanies her “hijos” and “hijas” on their journey to a new country. Many Latinx immigrants rely on their faith and devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe to get them through the challenges and difficulties of leaving their home country.
The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is that she was the apparition of the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary to an indigenous man, Juan Diego. The first appearance happened on December 9, 1531 where she spoke to him in his native language, Nahuatl asking for a church to be built on the site on which she appeared. The local bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico, asked for a miraculous sign as proof of her apparition.
The painting depicts the moment when Our Lady told Juan Diego to gather flowers in the middle of winter and place them on his tilma before presenting them to the bishop. When the roses fell, the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared on December 12, 1531. Three days after her first apparition to Juan Diego.
The painting highlights the differences between Spain and the indigenous people at the time. The artist made sure Saint Juan Diego has indigenous features, unlike other paintings of Saint Juan Diego painted by Spanish artists, which depict him with strong European features. The dark colors around the main image contrast the much brighter colors on Our Lady of Guadalupe and become the focal point that draws our attention. The Bishop’s image is also powerful, particularly the angle of his hand in the painting. The crown on Our Lady of Guadalupe represents that she is the queen of all that is created. The crown is not on the original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe but it is a unique trait to this painting.
What makes the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe so unique is that she is a mix of both Spanish and indigenous features, showing a sense of unity among both cultures. The artist, Andres de Islas was known for nonreligious images of people, his paintings portrayed the divisions and racial mixtures of colonial Mexico.
We encourage you to visit the Figge Art Museum in Davenport to check out the gorgeous painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was created in the late 1700’s and brought to Davenport Iowa in the early 1900’s, inadvertently, alongside the first wave of Mexican immigrants to the Quad Cities.