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“Who Would Believe What We Have Heard?”: Christian Spirituality and Images from the Passion in Religious Art of New Spain

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image of Religion and the Arts

The colonial art of New Spain/Mexico provides the viewer with a locus of examination into the robust Christianity that emerged over time out of a native spirituality newly laden with the contours and images from the Old World theology of late medieval/early Catholic Reformation Spain. Franciscan and especially Jesuit missionaries, impelled by a devotional zealotry, championed an apocalyptic vision of hope and suffering that was well suited for artistic expression. Religious art, whether or not patronized by European colonizers, became an instrument for the missionaries to teach and for the native artists to interrogate religious doctrine, and some artists, consciously or not, created their art as a response to that catechesis, a subtle fusion of ancient passion with the dramatic intensity of the new Catholic faith. One array of images in particular, that of the dolorous Passion of the Christ, was especially vibrant in the imaginations of the native artists and in the contemplation of the European missionaries and patrons. The image of the Suffering Servant resonated in the hearts and in the daily lives of the people just as it humbled missionary ardor, and excited a spiritual enthusiasm that forged an art of stunning doctrinal intimacy.

Affiliations: 1: Sacred Heart University

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