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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Landscapes of conversion: Franciscan politics and sacred objects in late colonial Mexico
by Gonzalez, Cristina Cruz, Ph.D., The University of Chicago, 2009, 387; 3387058
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation provides a genealogy of Franciscan image theory in the New World. Specifically, the project interrogates the Franciscan propagation of miracle-working objects—from the championing of popular Marian images in the seventeenth century to the crafting of potent sculptures and their dissemination in the eighteenth—and attempts to relate these activities to the socio-political and religious landscape of late colonial New Spain. Thus, the Franciscan advancement of numinous objects, seldom the focus of concentrated study, is here minutely examined and historically contextualized.

The Order's early investment in images—namely, the didactic image—was central to the sixteenth-century Franciscan missionary project. Yet while this period is traditionally seen as one in which the mendicant order rejected the concept of thaumaturgic objects—reticence towards the Virgin of Guadalupe is traditionally emphasized—the study argues for a more nuanced reading of the historical sources. Rather than define the late colonial Franciscan support of miraculous images as a break from sixteenth-century restraint, the current project chooses instead to understand how the Order's earliest strategies concerning images and their use set the stage for the future investment in numinous objects.

The dissertation interrogates the first Franciscan written accounts and activities that advanced the reputation of numinous, sacred objects and the Order's official attachment to sanctuary sites. Iconophilic praxis is examined in relationship to the onslaught of challenges posed by mendicant rivals—the Jesuits chief among them—and the Spanish Crown's own seventeenth-century strategy of transferring economic, religious, and political clout from monastic centers to the secular Church. The Crown's sharp and unforgiving policies would greatly intensify in the eighteenth century and culminate in the nineteenth. The same period, however, sees the establishment of the Franciscan missionary colleges of Propaganda Fide.

For Franciscan friars working under the banner of Propaganda Fide, spiritual reparation, religious renovation, and moral restitution formed a lexicon aimed at sustaining long-term projects of instauration. The late colonial promotion of sacred images became crucial to a buoyant Franciscan ontology: miraculous images reconverted lapsed communities, spiritually renovated ailing cities, battled Devils in Christian bodies, and announced mendicant piety and sanctity. Missionaries carefully sought to create and control a local cult of images in areas such as Querétaro, Zacatecas, Upper California, and Texas. The symbiotic relationship between the eighteenth-century missionary enterprise and the miraculous icon is most apparent in the history of a Marian icon from el Pueblito (Querétaro). Although the image's central iconography originates in a Rubens oil-sketch celebrating the Immaculate Conception, the visual theme receives the most exposure in the Franciscan strongholds of central New Spain where it comes to be strictly identified with the Order's conversion efforts. Thus, what began as an illustration of a controversial doctrine and its royal support in the Spanish Netherlands became, in Spanish America, a laudatory statement on the Franciscan missionary project. Yet the microhistory of the Virgin of el Pueblito also demonstrates the friars' strategy for the transformation of an illustration into a religious presence; in the town of el Pueblito, the Marian sculpture became an instrument capable of conversion, a holy image, and an object of veneration. With the story of el Pueblito, the dissertation enters into a more historical discussion of the status of images in the New World and interrogates the process through which an image came not only to symbolize something new, but to do something different.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cummins, Thomas B. F.
Commitee: Elsner, Jas, Nelson, Robert S.
School: The University of Chicago
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 70/12, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Religious history, Latin American history, Art history
Keywords: Colonial, Conversion, Franciscans, Mexico, Queretaro, Sacred objects
Publication Number: 3387058
ISBN: 978-1-109-52918-0
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