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  • San Antonio 1718: Art from Mexico ed. by Marion Oettinger Jr.
  • Judith Berg Sobré
San Antonio 1718: Art from Mexico. Edited by Marion Oettinger Jr. (San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2018. Pp. 191. Photographs, notes, bibliography, index.)

San Antonio 1718: Art from Mexico is a catalogue meant to accompany the exhibition of the same name shown at at the San Antonio Museum of Art from February 18 to May 13, 2018, but it is also far more than that. Edited with a brief introduction by its curator, Marion Oettinger, the volume not only includes color plates of every object on display, but also a brief essay by the editor and four scholarly articles. These pieces add a great deal of information and varied approaches that enhance the book's scope.

The exhibition, part of San Antonio's 300th anniversary celebration, differs from previous exhibits dealing with the arts of New Spain of the seventeenth to early nineteenth centuries in that it is related specifically to the role of the northern frontier and South Texas's place in it during the later Spanish colonial period. Though little from this period actually survives in situ in the San Antonio area (except for the façade sculpture and basic layout of the Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, the baptismal font in San Fernando Cathedral and what remains of the four other missions in the area, and a polychromed wooden image of Saint Joseph), there is much material produced in Mexico at this period that directly relates to the history and culture of San Antonio de Béxar. [End Page 223]

Scholarly essays help readers understand the exhibition's significance and its relationship to San Antonio's small but important settlement. Gerald E. Poyo's "At Empire's Edge" places San Antonio's history and the particularities of its unique culture and development within the larger context of New Spain's colonial society and institutions. In the process, he explains how, at this remote distance from the colonial epicenter, the casta system was interpreted and how the dynamic roles of the military, the Franciscan missionaries (especially Fray Margil de Jesús), and the city's Canary Islander colony functioned.

"Politics, Society and the Art in the Age of Bourbon Reform" by Ray Hernández-Durán explores the nature of the Bourbon official portrait tradition as reflected in New Spain by examining portraits of colonial officials, many of whom visited San Antonio during their careers, discussing their European-rooted conventions and New Spain's variations and additions. He also gives context to the unique genre of nun portraits and discusses secular images at various levels of society.

Jaime Cuadriello's "In the Footsteps of Sor María de Jesús and Fray Margil de Jesús" traces Fray Margil's career, its roots in the teachings of Sor María de Jesús a century before, and its impact on the Franciscan evangelism in New Spain (with specific reference to the two Franciscan colleges at Querétero and Zacatecas) and how these institutions affected the building of missions farther north. He explains the significance of the Virgin of Guadalupe in this context and also the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, both so often pictured in the region.

Finally, Cristina Cruz González's "A Second Golden Age: The Franciscan Mission in Late Colonial Mexico" examines both the phenomenon of missionary martyr portraits and the complicated Franciscan iconographies of "tree portraits" and other compositions dealing with the significance of particular saints depicted both in public religious paintings and those designed for more private devotion.

The combination of these approaches assists readers in understanding the objects in the exhibition. This is especially true for the piece with highest relevance to the context of South Texas, the Martyrdom of Franciscans at Mission San Sabá by José de Paez. A graphic depiction of the deaths of Fray Alonso Geraldo de Terrenos and José de Santestéban and the destruction of their mission on March 16, 1758, by Comanches, the piece simultaneously represents martyr portraits in a New World language and a painting of a historical event with origins in the European grand tradition...


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