Precious Materiality in Colonial Andean Art: Gold, Silver, and Jewels in Paintings of the Virgin
The embellishment of paintings of the Virgin Mary enhanced the meaning and value of the Marian devotions represented. This practice involved the direct application of ornaments made of precious metals and gems onto a painted canvas. This dissertation examines a small corpus of embellished paintings of the Virgin made in the Andes between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. At the center of this investigation is the heavily adorned image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Extremadura, originally created by Spanish friar Diego de Ocaña for the Metropolitan Cathedral of La Plata (now Sucre, Bolivia) in 1601. This dissertation argues that the motivations for embellishing these Marian paintings stem from the desire to imbue them with the value represented by these luxury materials during the colonial period. Following the Spanish invasion and settlement of the American continent, Eurocentric perceptions of luxury minerals dictated the value of precious metals and gems extracted from and circulated throughout the Andes. This dissertation examines these values of precious gems and metals using theoretical frameworks on materiality, adornment, and the appraisal of objects. This is followed by the historical accounts of how precious metals and gems came to be used as embellishments in paintings of the Virgin in the colonial Andes. By employing visual analysis and contextualization of the materials that make them unique, the purpose of embellishing sacred images with precious metals and gems becomes clearer.