Portrait of Antonia Pastrana y Cabrera (Siglo XVII) by Unknown artistSanta Clara Museum
Portraits of nuns crowned with flowers that symbolize their virtues stand out within the pictorial production of New Granada. Although most of these paintings were made at the time of the nuns’ death, in cases such as this canvas, women were depicted in life to preconize their religious virtues as well as their social status.
This image portraits Antonia Pastrana y Cabrera, a nun from the convent of Santa Clara in Santafé, who entered the monastery at an early age. The presence of girls in these places was common, although the rules stipulated that to enter the novitiate —the first stage of conventual life— women had to be at least 12 years old.
Antonia Pastrana y Cabrera was the daughter of Sebastián Pastrana, senior accountant of the Real Audiencia de Santafé, and of Ana María Pretel. She entered the convent in the second half of the 17th century alongside with her sisters Inés and Isabel and her stepsisters Sebastiana and Bárbara de la Trinidad. Due to their social position, the Pastranas were black-veiled nuns, that is, they held the highest rank within the institution, and had important positions in the monastery.
In the image, the little girl is seen wearing the Dominican habit, consisting of a white tunic and a black veil. This clothing responds to the fact that she began her training in the convent of the order of Saint Dominic of Santafé: Santa Inés de Montepulciano. Upon entering the institution of Saint Claire, Antonia had to change her habit for the Franciscan one, characterized by a brown tunic tied with a three-knotted cord.
Several pieces of jewelry stand out in Antonia’s outfit: earrings, a pearl necklace, a gold cross set with emeralds and a rosary. These objects highlight her high social status.
The flowers of the crowns seen in the portraits of New Granada’s nuns have deep spiritual meanings. However, in this case, through a restoration process carried out in 1987, it was determined that Antonia’s headdress is a repaint made to turn the image into a representation of Saint Rose of Lima. The Child Jesus that accompanies her is also a later addition, with which the cartouche containing the information on the identity of the portrayed woman was erased.
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