Loretto donates historic painting to museum
Loretto recently donated a major piece of art, Miguel Cabrera’s painting, “Our Lady of Light,” to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art (MOSCA) in Santa Fe, N.M. This painting had been with Loretto since the late 1870s, when Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy gave it to Mother Magdalen Hayden SL and the Sisters of Loretto at Our Lady of Light convent in Santa Fe. After having been a fixture in the convent for close to a century, the painting was moved to the Loretto Center in Denver when the Santa Fe Academy of Our Lady of Light closed in 1968. The painting had been on loan to museums in Santa Fe in recent years, and has not been out of the U.S. Southwest since it first arrived in the 1700s.
Despite its long life in the U.S., the painting originated in Mexico. Cabrera was a mestizo artist in New Spain, regarded during his lifetime and after as one of the region’s greatest painters. He painted “Our Lady of Light” around 1750, and the life-size piece was soon purchased by Governor Francisco Antonio Marín del Valle for use in Santa Fe’s La Castrense chapel, which was also called Our Lady of Light. This chapel was constructed in the mid-1700s to serve the military colonizers of what is now known as New Mexico. “Our Lady of Light” was folded to fit the stone reredos, or altar screen, of the chapel. (This elaborately carved reredos is a treasure of New Mexican art, and is now housed in Santa Fe’s Cristo Rey Church.)
The story of this particular depiction of Our Lady of Light began in 1722 when Father Giovanni Antonio Genovesi SJ of Sicily requested a painted image of the Virgin Mary. He asked a devout woman known for visitations from Mary for guidance, and the woman soon reported a vision of Mary as she wished to be represented in the painting. An artist was commissioned to complete the work, and copies spread around the world with the Jesuits. If Cabrera was not familiar with the original painting — which had been brought to León, Guanajuato, Mexico, in 1732 — he would have seen copies of the popular image by European or Mexican artists.
The year 2022 was fitting for Loretto to donate “Our Lady of Light” to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts, ensuring its permanent home in New Mexico; fall of 2022 marked the 170th anniversary of Loretto’s first journey to Santa Fe and the 20th anniversary of the opening of MOSCA.
See lorettocommunity.canto.com/v/archives for historical photos from Loretto archives.
To read all the articles in the Winter 2022-2023 issue of Loretto Magazine, click here.