The Brides of Christ: Nuns and Their Art in Colonial Mexico (1521-1821)

alzibarpaintingTypically nuns are viewed as passive females without power or influence who live out their days in isolation and austerity. Colonial documents and convents’ visual culture suggest a more nuanced story, however. Some of the most recognizable images from 18th-century New Spain are portraits of crowned nuns, or monjas coronadas, which display nuns in rich clothing with elaborate floral crowns, decorated candles, and even dolls. The portraits beautifully capture religious females upon their entry into a convent at the moment they marry Christ or after their mortal death. Nuns, as the brides of Christ, constructed part of their identity around their bond of love for Christ in a highly corporeal and sometimes erotic fashion. While portraits of crowned nuns are the most recognizable objects related to nuns, they reveal only a fraction of the rich visual record associated with Mexican nuns. A wider look at objects such as devotional paintings, prints, textiles, and sculptures give us better insight into the lives of nuns in New Spain.

Many art objects were owned and commissioned by convents. Additionally, nuns wrote journals, experienced visions, and even rebelled against dominant males in power. This presentation, structured around visual objects, considers the following questions in relation to nuns in New Spain: How did visual objects in convents aid nuns in their daily lives? What types of art works did nuns commission and why? How did certain nuns subvert male authorities? Why are portraits of crowned nuns so famous? And finally, why does it matter that we examine nuns in New Spain?

Presenter Profile: Lauren Kilroy, Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Art Historykilroy

Lauren Kilroy teaches courses on the art and architecture of colonial Latin America and Baroque Italy and Spain. Her research currently focuses on images of body parts in colonial Mexico, specifically of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the visual culture of female convents, and art related to death and dying in Mexico. A native of Los Angeles, Kilroy became fascinated at an early age with Mexican culture, and much of her current research interests stems from her time spent in Mexico.