MetCollects Episode 4 / 2019


MetCollects is an online feature that highlights works of art new to the Museum's collection through the fresh eyes of photographers and the enthusiastic voices of leading scholars and artists. Discover a new work each month.

Our Lady of Valvanera by unknown Cuzco artist ca. 1770–80

According to legend, the sacred image known as Our Lady of Valvanera is a "true portrait" of the Virgin Mary carved from life by Saint Luke and taken to Spain by disciples of Saint Peter. The miracle-working statue is said to have been hidden, along with a chest of relics, in the hollow of an oak tree in a remote valley in the mountains of La Rioja at the time of the Muslim conquest of Spain. Its secret location was revealed centuries later to the repentant thief-turned-hermit, Nuño Oñez, who is shown kneeling in adoration beside the Virgin and Child in this painting. In a scene depicted behind him, the once notorious bandit prepares to ambush an unsuspecting laborer whose ardent piety would motivate his own conversion.

The lavishly robed and adorned Virgin is enshrined by the enormous tree where she was discovered, her hiding place signaled by bees that ring the opening in its trunk and a spring that issues from its roots. Later narrators of the miracle story understood the tree as a symbol of Christ, the wellspring of grace, and the beehive as a metaphor for the community of the faithful. The flowery setting where sheep drink from the sacred stream alludes to Paradise, as do the brightly colored birds in the tree's spreading branches. Sin, in the form of a snake, is carried away by a white stork.

The unknown Peruvian artist who painted the Virgin of Valvanera and the faraway place favored by her miracles, surely created it for devotees from the northern Spanish region of La Rioja. Like other image-based cults exported from Spain to the Americas during the colonial period, devotion to the Virgin of Valvanera was at once pious and patriotic, rooted in belief as well as solidarity and group identity abroad.

Ronda Kasl
The American Wing



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