Mexico's crowned virgins: Visual strategies and colonial discourse in New Spain's portraits of "crowned nuns"
Girls and women who entered the convent in New Spain and professed religious vows were said to become 'dead to the world.' This metaphorical death effectively made them the brides of Christ, and it was in this capacity that they were pictured in late colonial portraits painted at the time of their metamorphosis. Donning a religious habit, floral crown, and other accoutrements, these nuns were portrayed in the same manner that they appeared in death portraits. An inscription containing their biographical data usually appears within the composition. The portraits, therefore, are effectively divided into two parts: pictorial and textual Nun's images engaged in the colonial discourse regarding the nature of Spanish America and its Creole inhabitants. Specifically, they visually expressed the popular belief that Spanish America was the site of the new earthly paradise whose most precious flowers were its virgin nuns. In addition to being regarded as naturally predisposed to mystical contact with God by means of their sex, nuns generally came from the same classes that were most affected by anti-Creole sentiments and policies exacerbated by the Bourbon Reforms of the late eighteenth century. Furthermore, their steadfastness in the face of religious reforms instituted by Spanish church officials identified them as a bastion of Creole corporate identity and cause for Creole patriotism While the iconic quality of crowned nun portraits fulfilled Creole desires for Mexican religious images that expressed Creole excellence, the division of the portraits' signifying field into pictorial and textual components effectively created a tension between the timeless and historical qualities of the nuns portrayed. Namely, while the pictorial component denotes the sacredness of the sitter the textual component localizes her by interjecting her historical data. This tension fulfilled Creole aspirations to simultaneously equate themselves to, and distinguish themselves from, Iberian Spaniards. This was achieved graphically by infusing the Spanish tradition of picturing deceased crowned nun with Creole themes. Textually, the portraits' inscriptions bound their subjects to their homeland, claiming their excellence for Mexico. In sum, this dissertation examines the visual currency that these portraits had within the larger issues of identity formation and colonial discourse