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The Case of Dubious Due Diligence
The Case of Dubious Due Diligence

The Case of the Olympic Posters
The Case of the Olympic Posters

The Case of the Solitary Surrealist
The Case of the Solitary Surrealist

The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt
The Case of the Recalcitrant Rembrandt

The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity
The Case of the Ambiguity of Authenticity

The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys
The Case of Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Boys

The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard
The Case of Clarence’s Château-Gaillard

The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910
The Case of the M.S. Nov 1910

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of the Archangel Michael Defeating Satan

The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2
The Case of Cruise Ship Art: Part 2

The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light
The Case of Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

The Case of Leni and the Nuba
The Case of Leni and the Nuba

The Case of the Seductive Souvenir
The Case of the Seductive Souvenir

The Case of the Irish Surrealist
The Case of the Irish Surrealist

The Case of the Developing Dalí
The Case of the Developing Dalí

The Case of Nano-D Technology
The Case of Nano-D Technology

The Case of Dabatable Donations
The Case of Debatable Donations

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of the Long-tailed Monkey

Edgar Heap of Birds
The Case of Edgar Heap of Birds

Silent Song
The Case of the Silent Song

Aficionado
The Case of Alex and the Art Aficionado

Portrait
The Case of the Privacy of the Publicity Photo

Potter
The Case of the Potter's Portraits

The Case of the Coy Cornelius Krieghoff

The Case of the Political Portraitist

The Case of the Reconsidered Revolution

The Case of the Anabiotic Abbey

The Case of the Phoney Picasso

The Case of Setsuko Piroche

The Case of being on the Forest Edge with Vern Simpson

The Case of Being at the End of the Storm with Loren Adams

The Case of Being: Under the Table with Thomas

The Case of Wyland's Whales on Walls

The Case of A.Y. Jackson's Smart River (Alaska)

The Case of Red Fish with Blue Breasts

The Case of Looe Poole

The Case of Camaldoli

The Case of MS

The Case of the Misattributed Emily Carrs

The Case of the Doubtful Dürer

The Case of the Purloined Picasso

The Case of the Defrocked Duchess of Devonshire

The Case of the First Wife

The Case of the Dodford Priory

The Case of the Unknown Actor

Art Services & Materials


Confessions Back

Juan Nepomuceno Herrera, Mary Most Holy Mother of Light

Juan Nepomuceno Herrera, Mary Most Holy Mother of Light (1870)

Practical Art History
(or Confessions of a Fine Art Appraiser)

by Jim Finlay
Finlay Fine Art
jim_finlay@telus.net

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 Mary’s left offers her a basket of burning hearts (representing souls). Additional putti support a crown of lights above the Virgin’s 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 (1818–1878) 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 Herrara’s 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 nun’s 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. Mary’s 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 McDonald’s, 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

 Sun, Feb 8, 2015