By Father Guillermo Treviño and Hola Iowa Staff
A unique painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe by Mexican artist Andres de Islas, painted in 1773, is at the Figge Art Museum in Davenport. It is part of the original museum gift from C. A. Ficke to the city of Davenport after acquiring it in 1901 in Mexico City.
This important painting is part of the New Spain Art Collection at the Figge. The image is important because it helps rediscover Mexican culture and creates the sense that Our Lady accompanies her “hijos” and “hijas” on their journey to a new country. During the early 1900s, many Mexican immigrants went to Iowa and Illinois to escape the Mexican Revolution, looking for a better life for themselves and their families and to fill the labor shortage caused by the U.S. entry into World War I. Many Latinx immigrants still 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 an apparition of the Virgin Mary, mother of God, to an indigenous man named Juan Diego. The first appearance happened on December 9, 1531, when she spoke to him in Nahuatl, his native language, and asked for a church to be built on the site where she appeared. The local bishop, Fray Juan de Zumarraga, the first bishop of Mexico, asked for a miraculous sign as proof of her apparition.
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 again, this time on the cloak, three days after her first apparition to Juan Diego.
The painting depicts that moment, highlighting the differences between Spain and the indigenous people at the time. The artist made sure Saint Juan Diego had 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 with the much brighter colors on Our Lady of Guadalupe and become the focal point. 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 is a unique trait to this painting. What makes the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe so distinct in the painting is that she has a mix of Spanish and indigenous features, showing a sense of unity among both cultures. De Islas was known for painting nonreligious images of people, and his work portrayed the divisions and racial mixtures of colonial Mexico.
Visit the Figge Art Museum in Davenport to see this painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe that was created in the late 1700s in Mexico and brought to Davenport, Iowa, in the early 1900s, coincidentally at the same time the first wave of Mexican immigrants arrived to the Quad Cities.