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Scenes of Reverence: The Virgin of Guadalupe

Overview of Artwork :

In 1531, the Virgin Mary appeared to Juan Diego near a hill sacred to the Mother Goddess of the Aztecs. The next day, an image of the Virgin combining features of a native diety and the Christian Madonna, appeared on Juan Diego's cloak, the source for all later images of her. In the Virgin of Guadalupe, indigenous and European traditions come together, and mark the beginning of Christianity in the Americas.


Paintings, such as the example of the Virgin of Guadalupe, were sometimes made for wealthy households containing a small chapel. Many of the paintings, like their European counterparts, contained elaborate gold leaf details. Often times depictions of the Saints and the Virgin were shown dressed in elaborate clothing, indicative of the clothing preferred by the New Spaniards. Churches and other ecclesiastical buildings were so elaborately decorated that at one time it was determined that objects for use in worship should only be made of precious metals.

Technique or Process

This painting is composed of oil paint and lacquer on a wood base inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Mother-of-pearl encrusted work was popular in late 17th century Mexico on this Virgin of Guadalupe painting we find it adorning the floral frame that surrounds the Virgin. Here, cultures come together with the use of a Pre-Columbian lacquer technique combined with Asian-influenced ornamentation. These same inlaid techniques were used to adorn room screens and decorative wall panels illustrating historic scenes.

Cultural Roots

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Mexican artists created a wide array of objects for use in the Roman Catholic Church. Paintings and sculptures of Mary, Christ, and saints; silver chalices and lecterns; embroidered textiles; objects made from ceramics and feathers all played a role in religious observance. Spanish, Moorish, Asian, and Pre-Columbian art influenced the sumptuous, elaborate, richly decorated Mexican baroque style these objects display.

Work of Art: Virgin of Guadalupe

Subject Area(s): Art history and aesthetics

Class Time: Two to Three Classes (45 minute periods)

Lesson Objectives:

The students will be able to:

  • Learn the history of Christianity in New Spain;
  • Learn the story and significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe;
  • Compare and contrast images of the Virgin and religious art to European counterparts.


  • Image of the Virgin of Guadalupe
  • Image of the Master of the Straus Madonna, Virgin and Child from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston collectio


Introducing the Work of Art

1. View the Virgin of Guadalupe painting.

  • What do you see?
  • How has the artist emphasized the importance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in this painting?

2. Read the following story about the Virgin and Juan Diego:

The Virgin of Guadalupe was a dark-skinned version of the Madonna credited with bringing Roman Catholicism to Mexcio's indigenous people who resisted the religion of the invading Spaniards for decades. Worshippers believe that the patron saint of Mexico first appeared to the peasant Juan Diego in the winter of 1531 on a hill outside of Mexico City. When Juan Diego told the city's bishops he had seen the mother of Jesus, they did not believe him. The peasant returned to the site, at which point the Virgin told him to pick roses she had made bloom on the hillside in mid-winter as proof of her existence. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before priests back in Mexico City, the roses fell out, revealing the perfect image of the Virgin stamped in the cloth. The cloak hangs today in Mexico City's Guadalupe Basilica. The Virgin remains the country's most important religious tradition and today more than 90% or Mexico's 90 million people are Catholic.

3. Discuss symbolism

  • Can you identify any symbols in this work?
  • Why do you think the artist chose to frame the Virgin with a winding vine of flowers?

The Virgin of Guadalupe is depicted surrounded by flowers. She instructed Juan Diego to pick flowers in winter and to bring them to the Bishop as proof of her apparition. Juan Diego carried the flowers in his cloak on which the image of the Virgin then appeared.

4. Describe the materials used in the painting.

Note the expensive materials used to create this painting. How does the choice of medium, especially the costly and laborious inlaid materials, emphasize the exclusiveness of this painting and its subject?

4. Read the following passage about the influence of other cultures:

The blending of the European and native cultures not only created the mestizo (a mixture of European and American Indian ancestry) people, but offered the opportunity for the European monks to develop the utopia of a perfect church, an idea that had been thwarted in Europe with the Protestant Reformation. To carry out their work, the friars preached and oversaw the construction of churches and even founded cities. Entire communities from old pre-Hispanic settlements moved from the secluded hills to the new villages located near trade routes and near recently founded Spanish cities. Fresh water, European plants and animals, and even the wheel and iron tools were introduced. Cities also offered town councils and hospitals. Catholic priests learned indigenous languages and wrote reports on the geography and customs of the region. Christianity not only reformed community life, but also became intertwined with native ancestral rituals and beliefs.

In Mesoamerica, a sizeable group of indigenous people embraced these new concepts and religious ideas and forged cultural links between the two differing groups. Although these indigenous people assimilated European culture and images, they still acted as guardians of their ancestral history and traditions. They worked with the friars to spread and reinforce Christianity, but at the same time they wanted to present a positive image of the pre-Hispanic world.

The artist who created this Virgin of Guadalupe, Agustín del Pino, was a native New Spaniard living in Mexico City. By examining this painting, do you think he embraced Christianity? Why?

Art Activity

Compare this Virgin of Guadalupe with European images of the Virgin and Child, such as the Virgin and Child by the Master of the Straus Madonna located in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

  • How are these two paintings alike and different?
  • How did each artist include an "other worldliness" quality to their depictions of the Virgin?
  • What qualities and characteristics about the Virgin did the artist emphasize?
  • How did each artist create an image of the Virgin that is uniquely their own?

Extension Activities:

Social Studies:

Consider the effects of religion on a culture. Research the Spanish Conquest of Mexico and their acceptance of Christianity. Did works of art, such as the Virgin of Guadalupe and Saint James on Horseback reinforce the society's attitudes about this new religion?


Many images of the Virgin of Guadalupe were created using a mathematical approach to proportion called the Golden Triangle. Research these rules of proportion. Does our Virgin of Guadalupe exemplify the rules of the Golden Triangle?

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