Just last week we acquired our first work by the great Juan Correa (1645–1716), considered along with Cristóbal de Villalpando (circa 1649–1714) to be one of the leading painters of Mexico in the late 17th century. Correa, the son of a famous Spanish surgeon and a freed black woman, was one of the few mulatto artists who achieved fame despite his racially mixed background. (The art of painting was generally considered the purview of white or Spanish masters.) His two mural-sized canvases for the sacristy of the Mexico City’s cathedral (1691–98), for example, are regarded as masterpieces of the Mexican baroque.
Our painting depicts an angel standing in a golden cloud carrying a cypress, a symbol associated with the purity of the Virgin Mary. The work probably formed part of a lost altarpiece devoted to the Immaculate Conception. Stylistically, the picture is characteristic of Correa’s work from the period between 1670 and 1690 with its vibrant palette, elegant composition, and overall emphasis on decorative details (e.g., the diaphanous veils and cabochons of the angel’s attire).
The figure's proportions, with prominent muscular white arms, are typical of Correa’s work, as are the finely detailed hands, with elongated fingers. Another element that is characteristic of Correa’s style is the impressionistic detailing of the cypress’s foliage, painted by pressing the tip of the brush against the canvas and then quickly dragging it down.
Correa was a master at creating subtle color gradations that provide a sense of iridescence and contribute to the overall mystical effect of the composition (seen here in the wings and the fabric of the angel’s boots).
Plans are in the works to analyze the painting with our conservators in order to determine the pigments and materials that the artists used, as well as the intricacy of his technique. Correa’s work represents a major keystone of our expanding collection of Spanish colonial art. The painting is now on view in our Latin American art galleries in the Art of the Americas Building.
Ilona Katzew, Curator and Department Head, Latin American Art