Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Mirabilia Americana", the Wonders of America,by Miguel Cabrera

Our view of things past tends to be two-dimensional, and at times we tend to assume that the ways things are was always so in the past.

On December 12th, 1531, Juan Diego had the last of a series of revelations on the part of the Blessed Virgin, and after Her last appearance, permitted the famous miracle by which Juan Diego opened up his sarape filled with roses in the presence of Zumarraga, Bishop of Mexico, and her image was reproduced on Juan Diego's garment. How was it reproduced? That riddle has puzzled scholars, saints, pilgrims and skeptics alike for close to 500 years.

My assumption was that within a few months, this miracle had become known to the Catholic Church, and quickly it became the Feast Day that we celebrate every year in Mexico. Not true! Rome's acceptance of the miracle would come almost 250 years later, and Miguel Cabrera had a major part in the process.

Miguel Cabrera wrote this essay, commissioned on the one part by the Jesuits and on the other by José Rubio y Salinas, the Archbishop of Mexico, together with a group of leading Mexican painters of his time to offer an opinion about the origin and nature of the ayate of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Miguel Cabrera is marveled as he describes a painting that apparently does not use one technique, but several, oil painting in certain areas, tempura in others. His studies conclude that the fabric is a certain type of palm, but while usually this palm renders a fabric which is coarse on its surface, in this case, the surface is smooth. Miguel's final aspect of analysis is the way that the gold is incrusted on the fabric, in a totally unique fashion.  

Neither these materials nor the know-how was available to Juan Diego, nor to anyone in Mexico in 1531. There is no logical explanation on how, or who, could have made this reproduction, at least from the point of view of the most accomplished painter in the 18th century.

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