Celestial canvases

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By Cristen Crujido

One cannot help but be lured in by the luminosity of color and divine subject matter at the Tucson Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition The Virgin, Saints, and Angels: South American Paintings 1600-1825 from the Thoma Collection opening Jan. 20.

Tucson is the next stop for the highly anticipated show before it departs on an international tour. The city’s rich Latino heritage, architecture, and cultural traditions provide a lush background, enhancing the viewer’s experience.

The exhibition is the first to highlight the art of the Viceregal period (1600-1825) of South America, particularly the Viceroyalties of Peru and Nueva Granada. Unlike Mexico, the artistic and cultural contributions of this New World Spanish realm are often overlooked. While U.S. exhibitions of Spanish colonial art abound, none to date have focused specifically on paintings from Spanish South America nor has the caliber of work paralleled the Thoma Collection.

“The quality of work and its rarity is exceptional,” says Julie Sasse, chief curator at the museum. “We had not had an opportunity to show work from this time period and we wanted to give our audiences an opportunity to be exposed to this art form. This is a very important exhibition.”

Of the 55 paintings on display, most are religious in theme. Quietly powerful, these centuries-old images are embedded with symbolism of the faithful and devout. They helped the missionaries in the conversion of native peoples to Catholicism. In The Virgin Vanquishing the Devil, the Virgin Mary draws blood as she spears the throat of a devil-like dragon. The ethereal quality of the painting is intoxicating thanks to the subtleties of the artist’s hand and the juxtaposition of good versus evil, which would be easily recognizable to the native eye.

Works were painted by European, Creole, Mestizo, and native artists drawing from European motifs and techniques.

“Everyone from a curator to someone who loves art is going to by wowed by this exhibition,” says Sasse. “Once you see them [the paintings], you will be amazed.”

To celebrate the spirit of the time, the museum has planned a series of activities in conjunction with the opening. A slide lecture called “South American Paintings, 1600-1825: Who Painted Them and What Were They For?” will give a crash course on the featured art and artists. The University of Arizona’s Arizona Choir will perform a period piece to conclude the festivities. All activities are free with museum admission. The Virgin, Saints, and Angels runs through April 29.

JAN. 20 – APR. 29, 2007
Tucson Museum of Art
140 N. Main Avenue, Tucson
Call for admission and viewing hours.
or call (520) 624-2333.

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