This smallish painting is a Mexican ex-votos--sometimes called "láminas," which is the Spanish word for thin sheets of metal or tin. They are in my opinion one of the most beautiful expressions of deep faith of Catholics in what used to be "New Spain." Being isolated from the Catholic Church in Spain, religious folk art took different forms, and one of these was the tradition of the láminas. When someone fell sick or got into trouble and then recovered, the idea was to express your request or thanks by painting it on a piece of metal or wood to the patron saint who could answer your need or to give thanks to the saint for answering the prayer. In early days, someone might take their prayer to a local artist who was known to have a great hand with a paintbrush, and that person would paint the request. Later, though, this became something you might do yourself, a form of folk art, and the pictures as we look at them today are absolutely charming. This lamina is painted on heavy gauge tin and depicts two young boys, Pedro and Pablo, playing with kites by a field. Pablo fell into the culvert and was unable to move. The mother made a plea to the Santisima Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos--a saint known for miracles. San Juan de Los Lagos is a town in Mexico, and in the 1500s, a Spanish priest there placed a saint of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception there. The reason the Virgen there is so well known for miracles is that there once was a young woman performing in the circus who fell ill and died yet when the statue of the Virgen was placed near her, she miraculously came back to life. And so perhaps more than any other saint, San Juan de los Lagos is associated with miracle work. This particular piece is from the mother of Pablo, Lucrecia Orozco, who on February 17, 1936, expressing gratitude to the saint for helping Pablo to walk again. This piece is charming, primitive, still vibrant, and lovely. While this is dated 1936, I cannot say for certain that it is original to that year. There is an excellent chance it is, based on the fact that the estate from which this came was that of a serious folk art collector, and this piece was hanging on a wall and well kept, out of the sun and a central piece of religious art in a home filled with art. This would account for the vibrancy of the paint. However, reproductions of this style have been made since about the 1980s.
This tin retablo measures 8-1/2" wide by 10-5/8" tall and weighs 6.7 ounces. The metal has holes at the at the top into which nails would have been place for hanging. Some distress and grime in the surface. There is a rusty hole in the tin, near where Pablo is, which would have been there when the painting was made.
The power of faith, and the power of the past. May they endure.
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