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The Art of Professing in Bourbon Mexico

Crowned-Nun Portraits and Reform in the Convent

By James M. Córdova

Publication Year: 2014

Offering a pioneering interpretation of the “crowned nun” portrait, this book explores how visual culture contributed to local identity formation at a time when the colonial Church instituted major reforms that radically changed the face of New Spain’s convents and religious character.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Latin American and Caribbean Arts and Culture Publication Initiative

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xii

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii-xiv


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pp. xv-xx

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pp. 1-13

In Bishop Palafox y Mendoza’s jubilant statement, he elevates nuns, whom he calls “the Lord’s Brides,” above the angels of heaven. His accolade, which appears in the Rules and Constitutions of Puebla’s convents of Santa Catarina and Santa Inés, would have delighted its readers. After all, at the moment a woman took...

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1. Women’s Religious Pathways in New Spain

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pp. 14-34

Just two years after the conquest of Mexico Tenoch titlan, the Franciscan lay brother Fray Pedro de Gante (1490– 1572) began to indoctrinate Mexico City’s native youths in Christianity and provide them with a humanist education. His undertaking was adopted by the fi rst wave of friars to arrive in New...

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2. New Spanish Portraiture and Portraits of Nuns

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pp. 35-68

Because of the extreme asceticism and mystical raptures that brought her into contact with Christ and the Devil, many residents of Puebla considered Sor Isabel de la Encarnación a local saint. When she died in 1633 the nuns of San José (later renamed Santa Teresa) convent summoned a local artist to record...

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3. Euro-Christian Precedents in the Crowned-Nun Image

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pp. 69-92

New Spain’s hagiographers wrote that exceptionally virtuous nuns who underwent a holy death had an “odor of sanctity” (olor de santidad) about them.1 These writers sometimes claimed that nuns’ dead bodies actually gave off a pleasing scent, a phenomenon that they considered to be an indisputable...

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4. Indigenous Contributions to Convent Arts and Culture

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pp. 93-121

As the first convent for indigenous nuns in the Americas, Mexico City’s Corpus Christi convent was the inspiration for the establishment of a handful of other such institutions in New Spain.1 However, when it received its first indigenous women in 1724, a small group of Creole nuns, appointed as...

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5. The Profession Portrait in a Time of Crisis

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pp. 122-147

In 1723 don Luís de la Peña, a Mexico City rector and Inquisition official, stated matter-of-factly that many more women than men experienced God’s mysteries through visions and revelations.1 This was a direct result of their rich interior, or contemplative, lives, especially as religious. In the monastic realm, nuns and...

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6. Colonial Identity Rhetorics

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pp. 148-172

From shortly after the time of European contact, the discourse on America’s ontological makeup emboldened and legitimated Europe’s colonial enterprise. By the eighteenth century, Spanish American intellectuals and artists had entered the debate, complicating the monolithic image of America and its inhabitants...

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pp. 173-178

Production of crowned-nun portraits continued well into the nineteenth century, long after Mexican independence in 1821. For example, consider the profession portrait of Sor Manuela de Mesa (see fi g. 4.3), an indigenous nun of the Company of Mary, who is pictured in the simple black-and-white habit...


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pp. 179-214


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pp. 215-218


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pp. 219-238


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pp. 239-252

Color Images

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pp. 253-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780292753167
E-ISBN-10: 0292753160
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292753150
Print-ISBN-10: 0292753152

Page Count: 288
Illustrations: 69 b&w in text, plus 16-page color section
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Latin American and Caribbean Arts and Culture Publication Initiative