Carved Pilaster from Our Lady of Guadalupe
Arts of the Americas
On View: American Art Galleries, 5th Floor, The Americas’ First Peoples, 4000 B.C.E.–1521 C.E.
These Spanish church columns portend the culture clash between indigenous people and Spanish missionaries in the Americas. The Spanish were the first Europeans to establish successful towns in the Americas, building missions in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 1565 and Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 1609. The Spanish crown attempted to establish dominance over the Native pueblos, igniting tumultuous decades of conflict throughout the seventeenth century.
These columns, originally painted, were created by the Spanish artist Bernardo Miera y Pacheco and made to flank the altar of the Catholic church in Old Zuni Pueblo. They are carved in the Spanish estípe style, smaller at the bottom than at the top and covered with low-relief designs of angels and European flowers.
For their new Catholic church at Zuni Pueblo, indigenous people chose which European religious traditions and styles to incorporate into their own ancient customs. Today, the church walls are painted with large murals of sacred Kachina dancers, and the Christian cross above the altar is decorated with local flora and fauna.
100 3/4 x 14 in. (256.0 x 36.0 cm)
Museum Expedition 1904, Museum Collection Fund
Around 1700 the distinctive estípite column with its angular profile - widest in the middle of the shaft, narrower at the base and capital - became popular in Spain, particularly in Andalusia. It transmission to the New World occurred when Spanish artist Jerónimo Balbás traveled to Mexico to design an alter screen for the cathedral. His Alter of the Kings (1718-37) included numerous polychromed and gilded estípite columns, which were rapidly copied and, unlike in Spain, also applied to some stone facades.
The first known use of estípite columns on the northern frontier of New Spain is on the carved and painted stone alter of the castrense chapel (1761) in the style of Spanish-born artist Captain Bernardo Miera y Pacheao (1714-1785). The columns from the Lady of Guadalupe at Zuni Pueblo represent the second known example of this style in New Mexico and are exceptionally well-executed provincial examples of the form. These were apparently gessoed and polychromed, not layered with gold leaf like estípite in central Mexico.
The carving includes standard elements of the late Baroque or Estípite Baroque style characterized by Rococo decorative details such as geometric compartments in the shape of squares, circles, and rectangles as well as opposing S- and C-scroll motifs, seen on the upper shaft. The lower shaft displays chevrons, winged cherubs, vegetal filler overlapping the shaft's frame, and suspended bunches of Eucharistic grapes.
Photographs and illustrations from the mid-to-late nineteenth century depict the alter screen with four large estípite columns (this one and three counterparts). The alter screen originally included a large oil painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, images of Saint Dominic, Francis, Michael, and Gabriel, and a relief of God the Father at the top.
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