- Luis Nino, Bolivian
- Born: Potosi, Bolivia
- Work Locations: Potosi, Bolivia
- Active Dates: circa 1730s
- Potosi, Bolivia
About the Artist
This painting is attributed to Indian artist Luis Niño, a renowned painter, sculptor, and silver-worker born in Potosí, Bolivia. Niño worked directly for the Archbishop of Potosí and was so famous that his works were exported to Europe, Lima, and Buenos Aires. Two surviving paintings of the Lady of the Victory of Málaga [MAH-la-gah] are signed by Niño. This one may have been signed as well but, if so, the signature was lost when the painting was cut down at some point. However, the similarities between this painting and the others that were signed by Niño have led scholars to credit him for this one as well. In this painting of the Virgin of Málaga, Luis Niño has merged European and Indian artistic traditions and meanings into a unique and engaging work of art.
What Inspired It
This is a painting of a statue of the Virgin of the Victory of Málaga, which resides in Málaga, Spain. Since Málaga is a port city, the Virgin is considered a patron of sailors, ships, and voyages. The original statue was a gift to the city. It depicts a seated Madonna, the mother of Christ in the Catholic tradition, with the Christ Child in her lap. As with many such statues across Spain, this statue was dressed in luxurious garments depicting the fashions of the time. The fabric of the Virgin’s dress makes it look as though she is standing instead of sitting. To cover the throne on which the Virgin sits, the garments were usually very wide, as seen in this painting. Engravings of the Virgin of Málaga were distributed widely in the New World and may have helped inspire Niño’s painting.
The extraordinary use of gold decoration in this painting is exclusive to Cuzco, Peru, and the surrounding area, including Bolivia. Known assobredorado, or gold overlay in Spanish, the decoration was created by applying gold leaf over raised layers of gesso (primer paint). The highland areas were also known for weaving elegant textiles. The gold patterning on fabrics in this painting may reflect this reputation.
The wide dress of the Virgin in the painting is similar to the actual wide cloth gowns that were used to dress statues of the Virgin in Spain. At the same time, the shape recalls the outline of the Inca earth-mother goddess, Pachamama, who often appeared in the shape of a mountain.
The crescent moon at the feet of the Virgin symbolizes the Virgin’s Immaculate Conception. The moon shape is also reminiscent of the crescent-shaped tupu, or broach pins, that were (and still are) worn as fasteners for traditional Inca capes. When viewed in conjunction with the two vertical lines above the moon shape, the shape of a tumi (a ceremonial knife of the Inca and pre-Inca cultures of Peru and Bolivia) is formed. The tumi is a symbol of victory and conquest.
The Inca considered birds to be sacred creatures for their ability to fly and, consequently, to move closer to the sun god. Beautiful bird feathers were incorporated into clothing and headdresses of the Inca nobility and symbolized exalted status. Painters often incorporated bird feathers into images of the Virgin and Christ to indicate their sacred and honored position in colonial society.
The two scenes at the bottom of the painting depict a miracle performed by the Virgin of Málaga in the New World. The scene may show a rescue from a pirate attack, common along the west coast of South America in the 1700s. In the scene on the left, the Virgin of Málaga is seen in a cloud in the uppermost right corner. The miracle took place at sea, because we can see the mast and sail of a ship. We also know that this miracle occurred in the New World since the white flag with red X-shaped cross on one of the ships is the flag of Spain, but only in the New World.