If the power of images to convey complex messages interests you, then you must see the seven nineteenth-century Mexican retablos that now grace the walls of the new conference room. Gifts of Madeleine Gomez, and Jennifer and Isaac Goldman to the university, the small paintings on tin bear witness to the rich spiritual and cultural heritage of the Church in Central America.
Like Byzantine icons, retablos were vehicles by which the holy became present before the devotee. For this reason, retablo artists, most of whom were anonymous and unschooled, adhered closely to traditional European models brought to the New World by missionaries. Mexican painters ignored Benedict XIV’s ban on representations of the Trinity in human form. It is not through physiognomy but by the color of their robes and the objects in their hands that one identified the three persons of the Trinity in La Santisima Trinidad. Two retablos promote the doctrine of the True Presence in the Eucharistic wine by depicting blood from Christ’s wounds filling a chalice around which lambs gather. A trace of older, indigenous imagery survives in the rendering of San Raphael. His feathered headdress recalls those worn by pre-Conquest deities, priests, and rulers.