Transforming Images

New Mexican Santos in-between Worlds

By (author) Claire Farago, Donna Pierce

Hardback - £82.95

Publication date:

29 August 2006

Length of book:

376 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271026909

“Style” has been one of the cornerstones not only of the modern discipline of art history but also of social and cultural history. In this volume, the writers consider the inadequacy of the concept of style as essential to a person, people, place, or period. While the subject matter of this book is specific to religious practices and artifacts from New Mexico between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the implications of these investigations are far reaching historically, methodologically, and theoretically.

The essays collected here explore the Catholic instruments of religious devotion produced in New Mexico from around 1760 until the radical transformation of the tradition in the twentieth century. The writers in this volume make three key arguments. First, they make a case for bringing new theoretical perspectives and research strategies to bear on the New Mexican materials and other colonial contexts. Second, they demonstrate that the New Mexican materials provide an excellent case study for rethinking many of the most fundamental questions in art-historical and anthropological study. Third, the authors collectively argue that the New Mexican images had, and still have, importance to diverse audiences and makers.

The distinctiveness of New Mexican santos consists not only in their subjects (which conformed to Catholic Reformation tastes) but also in elements that may appear to have been “merely decorative”: graphically striking and frequently elaborate abstract design motifs and landscape references. Despite their anonymity, the images are, as a group, readily distinguished from local products anywhere else in the Spanish colonial world. This distinctiveness suggests that we should inquire not so much about the individual identities of their makers as about the collective identity of the society and place that produced and used them.

“This manuscript is quite unlike anything yet published on New Mexican colonial-period material. Long overdue, it not only brings together a wealth of new material, but it also addresses the region with an academic sophistication and respect that has been lacking, problematizing religious artworks with a strong theoretical underpinning and an interdisciplinary approach. Overall, the anthology chides and corrects conventional Eurocentric scholarship that devotes most attention to categorizing and identifying iconographic and stylistic patterns and continues to be inattentive to the reception, function, and bicultural production of artifacts. Particularly noteworthy is the effort to underscore the strong indigenous influence in colonial arts through both authorship and artistic/cultural influences during the campaign to evangelize and Hispanize the Amerindian population. By and large, the artworks are situated in a well researched social, political, historical context with the primary focus on how Santos are made, or seen, to operate.”

—Jeanette Favrot Peterson, University of California, Santa Barbara