Antique Mexican Distressed Carved Painted Virgin Mary Santo & Wood Nicho Shrine, Religious Art


This wood carved saint statue is not very large, yet it exudes grace and presence. It is a crowned Virgin Mary in red dress and blue cape, seated in a simple and low throne, the tiny Christ child in her lap. One of her removable hands is missing, not uncommon for carved saints from this era, and in the other hand she holds the remnants of a globus cruciger or some other symbol. The saint was carved circa late 19th Century, and is Mexican, with traditional colored dress and robe. It is not uncommon to find antique santos--and in this three-dimensional form, they are called "bultos" in Spanish--with this much distress. Such a saint is a devotional piece of art, more than likely carved by a layperson who has some skill in carving but who is not trained in fine art. Being that Mexico was so isolated from Spain and the center of the Catholic religion, a saint like this would have been carved by observing paintings or other statues brought from Spain, and this one would have been made based on those depictions. Hence, it has a primitive, naiive look to it, and it would have been devotional, done for a village parish or even the home of someone important. The fact that the paint in areas is cracking and peeling, revealing either gesso underneath or even the raw wood, speaks to the age and the arid climate of Mexico and New Mexico, where the saint resided. The estate that last owned and displayed the saint was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the piece was meaningful to a woman who had originally been Catholic but converted to Judaism when she married her husband. As anyone raised in the Catholic faith knows, Catholicism is cultural, it and the connection to saints is strong. And the connection to the Virgin Mary can be equally as strong as that to Jesus, as Mary was someone who walked through a life of grief with dignity and strength, and many Catholics, even converted ones, look to her as a source of faith, the letting go and allowing her grace to help hold and withstand the pains of life and death. The owner's daughter recalled the carved nicho, too, which is many respects is just as valuable an artifact as the saint, in her childhood home. It is painted a gray blue, and like the saint, is crackled and crazed with age and wear. The back has glued a piece of muslin or cheesecloth, now discolored. The sides of the nicho have turned wood, something we think of today as "barley twist" carving, which originated in the late 17th Century and became popular in the Victorian Era, so while we can't say with certainty that it was made for the saint, the era in which it was made is within range. It has beautiful detailing on the sides, and because it came with the saint from the same estate, I am keeping the two together.

The Virgin Mary measures about 8-1/2" tall and the base is about 3-3/8" wide by about 2-1/2" deep. The artist painted the bottom piece of wood on the base the same blue color as the saint's cape. The saint is lightweight, another sign of age, at about seven ounces. The nicho measures about 12-1/4" tall to the top of the piece by about 7-1/4" wide including the applied carved decorations on the side by just over 3-1/2" deep. The interior part of the box is closer to 9" tall by just over 5" wide. Weighs 1.13 pounds. Both pieces will be handled and packaged carefully for shipping.

Enduring faith.


Note that due to lighting plus monitor settings for brightness, contrast and other factors, there may be differences in the colors and tones of photos versus that of the actual item. Please message with questions and I will respond as soon as possible.


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