PROPERTY FROM THE BENEDICTINE SISTERS OF PITTSBURGH SOLD TO BENEFIT THE BUILDING OF A MONASTERY TO MEET THE NEEDS OF THE SENIOR SISTERS
La llegada a Belén; signed and dated Michael Cabrera fac. Anno Dni. 1766, lower center
La adoración de los Reyes Magos; signed and dated Mich.l Cabrera Pinx.t Mexici: Anno Dni. M.DCC.LX.VI, lower left
La huida a Egipto; signed and dated Michael Cabrera Pinx a 1766, lower left
La muerte de San José; signed Mich.1 Cabrera Pinx, lower left
La asunción de la Virgen, signed and dated Mich. Cabrera Pinxit Mexici: Anno Domini. M.DCC.LX.VI, lower right
H.J. Heinz, Pittsburgh
Father Charles Sovak, Pittsburgh (gift from the above circa 1921-1932)
Benedictine Sisters of Pittsburgh, North Canal Street Monastery and Ross Township Monastery (gift from the above circa 1932-1938)
Series of images of the lives of the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, and Christ were ubiquitous in Latin American viceregal art, as in Counter-Reformation Catholic imagery generally from the mid-1500s into the nineteenth century. In addition to serving as illustrations of scenes from the Bible and the Catholic Apocrypha, the individual scenes could serve as icons for specific devotions focused on events such as the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, Holy Family, Presentation, Assumption, and so forth. (In North America, the practice of naming Catholic High Schools after these events gives evidence of the power of the tradition.) Throughout his prolific career, Cabrera painted numerous series; some of the extant groups have up to fifteen images. One may therefore assume that the present series originally had more images, such as the Marriage of the Virgin, the Annunciation, and possibly her Presentation to the Temple, her Dormition, and so forth.
The eight scenes offered here date from the end of Cabrera's career, and interestingly, repeat very few motifs from other known images of these subjects in Cabrera's oeuvre, demonstrating his remarkable creativity and invention. For example, the scene of the Birth of the Virgin varies considerably from the same image in the series of fourteen monumental scenes from the lives of Christ and the Virgin, painted by Cabrera ca. 1751-60 for the sacristy of the Church of Santa Prisca in Taxco, Mexico. The number of figures, the ages of each, the position of St. Joachim (standing in the present series, seated in Taxco), and the increased emphasis given to St. Anne in the present example, all indicate an artist actively creating new ways of depicting the ancient stories. (Cf. G. Tovar de Teresa, Miguel Cabrera, México 1995, pp. 144-161.)
In style, the present series may be compared to three pictures painted by Cabrera in 1767 for the Church of El Carmen in Querétaro, Mexico, depicting the Virgin of the Carmelites and visions of St. Theresa of Ávila and St. John of the Cross. One may particularly note the similar facial features of the Virgin and the treatment of the young angels in both series. (Cf. G. Tovar de Teresa, Miguel Cabrera, México 1995, pp. 200-202.)
The provenance of the eight scenes is typical of many Mexican viceregal works in United States collections. Upper-class North Americans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries often visited Mexico, buying works of art that, until the Mexican Revolution period of 1910-20, were readily available. The closing of the Mexican monasteries in the 1860s had released many works of religious art into private hands, and by the end of the century, these were being sold by private owners. For example, the Charles Ficke and Margaret Barber Mexican colonial painting collections, at the Figge Museum of Art in Davenport, Iowa, and the Emily DeForest (New York) and Philadephia Museum collections of Mexican ceramics, were all assembled at this time. Similarly, Henry J. Heinz visited Mexico ca. 1900, and is documented as having bought works of art there. For example, his obituary in the Pittsburgh Dispatch, 15 May 1919, gives the following information:
"Few places in Europe that were worth seeing escaped him, and he made extensive tours in Egypt, Palestine, Mexico, Bermuda and West Indies, in all of which countries and in all of his visits he enriched his remarkable collection."
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