The Virgin with the Child, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Barbara

Brief tour through some details of the painting

The virgin with the child, saint John the Baptist and saint barbara by AnonymousSanta Clara Museum

The presence of different devotions in the same image was rare in New Granada’s pictorial pieces. The works of the Santa Clara Museum that have this characteristic are counted. One of them is this painting currently located on the western wall of the old temple.

In the foreground is the figure of the Virgin Mary seated. In her arms, she holds Child Jesus partially covered with a white cloak, which symbolizes his purity. The mother’s gaze is directed to the child, who looks directly at the observer.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the theme of the Holy Family, made up of Mary, the Child, and Saint Joseph —who does not appear on this canvas— was the central subject of treatises and devotional comments that reflected on the effects and emotions that these iconographies could arouse on worshippers. Consequently, the presence of these characters in the production of images increased.

In the background, we see Saint John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin. Represented here as a child, he bears the usual attributes by which he is recognized: a crosswise cloak, an aureole that surrounds his head, and a wooden cross that he holds with his right arm.

The figure of the Baptist is of great importance, since it was he who baptized Jesus and prophesied his role as messiah.

The representation of this saint next to the Virgin and Child or next to the Holy Family was usual in colonial Santafé, although it has no biblical justification. Were the Italian artists of the Renaissance who, following some apocryphal traditions, popularized this motif, which was introduced in Spain in the 16th century and then spread broadly in the American territory. Following this tradition, San Juanito, as he is popularly known, is shown to us older than Jesus, even though both children were born only a few months apart.

Contrary to what happened with the Baptist, the presence of Saint Barbara in these types of scenes was not usual. In any case, her figure had great dissemination in New Granada colonial society. Considered the patron saint of crops and protector against plagues and storms, the saint holds a bolt of lightning in her right hand.

Saint Barbara was the daughter of a satrap king, so this image shows her dressed in rich robes and wearing a crown. These elements connote its noble origin.

According to tradition, Saint Barbara desired to follow the Catholic religion since she was little, but her father, who disagreed, locked her in a tower. There, Barbara opened three windows, which would represent the Holy Trinity. Upon discovering the meaning of the windows, his father wanted to assassinate the saint, who had to flee to avoid her death. Later, she was recaptured, sentenced to torture, and finally beheaded by her parent.

To honor her perseverance in defense of the Catholic faith and her death, Barbara is represented with a palm leaf, attribute of the martyrs. The tower in which she was enclosed is also one of her attributes.

The representation of these four figures of saints in the same image indicates that this painting could be produced as part of a particular devotion of the client, whether it was a person outside the convent of Santa Clara, or a nun, who would have given it as a dowry upon entering the temple.

Credits: Story

Museum Director
María Constanza Toquica Clavijo
Manuel Amaya Quintero
Anamaría Torres Rodríguez
María Isabel Téllez Colmenares
Collection Management
Paula Ximena Guzmán López
Tanit Barragán Montilla
Valentina Bastidas Cano

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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