Chapter 44. The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The artwork dates from the mid-nineteenth century and was acquired by the present owner by descent.
It is a framed hand-coloured lithograph on canvas depicting the Virgin Mary, who is cradling the infant Christ in her left arm and standing on the heads of three putti. With her right hand, she clenches the wrist of a young man to prevent him from being devoured by a large, fire-filled head. An angel to Marys left offers her a basket of burning hearts (representing souls). Additional putti support a crown of lights above the Virgins head.
A title banner, added in oil after the original canvas was completed, is signed and dated Juan Nepomuceno Herrera. 1870. The banner reads LA M. SS. DEL LUME (Mary Most Holy Mother of Light). The image size is approximately 31 x 25 inches.
Juan Nepomuceno Herrera (18181878) was a prominent Mexican painter who was born and died in León, Mexico. He made 50 works, mostly portraits, which show a quality typical of an academic painter. This is surprising, since details of Herraras training are lost. Of his works, 22 were religious. One of his first was a portrait of the Bishop of Michoacán, Juan Cayetano Portugal, in 1857.
The story of the image of Mary as the Mother of Light began in eighteenth-century Palermo, Sicily, when a nun had a vision of Mary saving a man from the mouth of a demon. The Jesuits made a painting of the nuns vision, and that work later made its way from Sicily to León. There the Jesuits placed it in their church, the Basilica Cathedral of Our Holy Mother of the Light, for public veneration. The image was soon considered miraculous and copies were sent all over the Americas. Local artists like Juan Nepomuceno Herrera were soon adding their own banners in the local languages.
The iconographic elements of the image reference the intervention of Mary as saviour and protector of the faithful from calamity and catastrophe, whether caused by natural disasters or contrived by political power structures. The crown over her head identifies her as the queen of heaven, and the basket of souls being offered by an angel alludes to her divine grace being sought by the faithful. The bodiless, fire-breathing head represents disaster, death and possibly the devil in short, all that is evil in the world. Marys pose is one of graceful triumph.
The addition of the title banner in the language of the local people, Spanish, and painted in oil by a local artist, speaks to the desire by the Catholic Church to create a sense of community and originality at the local level throughout various countries in the world.
However, while the image encourages communion with other Catholic dioceses, the banner addition has the effect of nullifying regional disparities of theological doctrine, yet at the same time offering a sense of uniqueness and ownership a marketing strategy not unlike McDonalds, where uniformity of product taste and appearance is paramount no matter where in the world you purchase your cheeseburger with fries
except that in some jurisdictions you can order mayonnaise instead of ketchup with your fries.
Next: The Case of Cruise Ship Art, Part 2