conquistadors believed St. James to be their protector
in their colonization of the New World. This six-foot
sculpture portrays the saint victorious in combat. The
piece can basically be divided into the sculptures of
the saint and of the horse.
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.
such as Saint James on Horseback, were sometimes made
for wealthy households containing a small chapel. Sculptures,
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.
New Spaniards wanted their statues painted like Roman
sculptures, but instead many of them employed the estofado
technique. With the Estofado technique a sculpted figure
is covered entirely in gold lead except for the hands,
feet, and head. It is then overpainted, and decorative
patterns are scratched into the surface to reveal the
underlying gilt. Although much of the gold remained hidden
under the paint layer, the use of gilding showed the artist
spared no expense when creating images of the Saints and
lends the figures an air of unreality and spirituality.
Saint of Spain and Chile, Saint James was the first Apostle
(Greek for messenger) to be martyred. Here we see him
on horseback, depicted with a dark beard and carrying
a sword, the instrument of his martyrdom. It is believed
that Saint James appeared and fought beside the Spaniards
at one of the battles against the Moors. Because of this
episode, in Spanish versions, Saint James is typically
shown on horseback, trampling a Moor underfoot.
Western religion came to the New World, a large number
of saints were worshipped in New Spain and depicted in
various media. As far back as the sixteenth century, daily
exposure to these figures' pictures and Catholic rhetoric
helped the New Spaniards begin to identify with the saints
and, because of their distinctive attire and appearance,
these images almost became stereotypical. For centuries,
Spaniards regarded St. James as their protector in battle.
The saint was credited with leading the Spanish forces
to victory against the Moors and in the conquest of Mexico.
Spanish soldiers brought the veneration of Saint James
to the Americas.
we see St. James depicted as a warrior wearing a floppy
hat and armor. St. James was introduced to New Spain at
the outset of the Spanish Conquest. The conquistadors
were devoted to St. James and believed him to be the protector
of their military invasion of the New World. Look at his
pose and expression. Why was it important for the Spanish
to bring their Saints and their religion to the New World?
saint's face and hair are meticulously carved with a
great attention paid to detail.
sword, along with the stirrups and bridles, is made
from wrought iron and adds to the realism of the piece.
armor is decorated with a plant motif. The artist used
estofado, a technique by which the entire figure is
gilded, over-painted, and then engraved to reveal the
underlying gold leaf.
contrast to the intricate carving on the saint, the
horse is sculpted in a simplified style.
base on which the horse's legs rest on may have at one
time been the figure of a Moor or Indian trampled by
St. James in battle.
the Work of Art
Take a careful look at Saint James on Horseback and make
an inventory list of everything that you see. Begin with
the most obvious components, such as St. James and the
horse, and move to the specifics, such as the sword and
the horse's eyelashes.
Discuss the choices the artist made with creating this
sculpture. Questions could include:
colors did the artist use?
sections of the sculpture contain the most detailed
James is considered the protector in battles. How would
you describe Saint James' pose and expression? Describe
the pose and expression of the horse.
to legend, Saint James' horse should be shown trampling
a Moor. Instead, he is shown here posed and ready for
a drawing depicting what Saint James might be doing just
one minute after this sculpture. Is he preparing for battle?
Is he heading home?
sure to include as much detail in your drawing as possible
- such as the detail on the armor and the expressions
of the horse and rider.