` Permanent Collection Detail – Spanish Colonial Arts Society

About the Permanent Collection

Exploring the Collection

Our Permanent Collection of nearly 4,000 items includes both an extensive collection of catalogued items of Spanish Colonial art as well as Peruvian Colonial art from the Beltrán-Kropp Collection. Click below to browse the collections or scroll down to “Collection Highlights” to read the history of selected works.

Use of the Collection

The Permanent Collections are available for use by artists, students, scholars, and the general public. Removal of objects from the Collections Center in the form of temporary loans are made to established institutions. The Society offers high resolution images of objects for scholarly publications at nominal fees. Above all, we encourage on-site research.

Researchers must have a scheduled appointment to access the collections. To schedule an appointment, click here.

Our Lady of Light

18th Century

Oil on Canvas

Gift of Sisters of Loretto

In an extraordinary gesture of faith and friendship, the Sisters of Loretto have gifted Our Lady of Light, a historic mid-18th century oil painting from the Mexico City workshop of Miguel Cabrera, to the Spanish Colonial Arts Society’s Museum of Spanish Colonial Art.

The Sisters’ generosity marks the 170th anniversary of their arrival in Santa Fe, where they served as educators at Loretto Academy (also known as Our Lady of Light) from 1852 to 1968. 


In making this gift, they return the painting to Santa Fe where it had arrived from Mexico City by 1761, along with two others from the Cabrera workshop (now at UNM).  Then-governor of New Mexico Francisco Antonio Marín del Valle was having a new military chapel of La Castrense constructed at his own expense on the south side of the Santa Fe Plaza and dedicated to Our Lady of Light (inaugurated in 1761).  All three Cabrera paintings were hung in the new chapel.

The large carved and painted stone altar screen, now at Cristo Rey Church, was originally made for the La Castrense Chapel and is attributed to Marín del Valle’s friend and colleague, Captain Bernardo Miera y Pacheco (1713-1785), who was secretary of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Light and was described in documents of the era as a mathematician, cartographer, farmer, rancher and artist.  Although carved and painted stone altar screens are extremely rare in Mexico, several existed in Spain, particularly in the city of Burgos in northern Spain.  Both the governor and Miera were originally from this area: Marín del Valle from the town of Lumbreras east of Burgos; Miera from Santibáñez north of Burgos.

The original image of the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of Light had been made in Sicily (a viceroyalty of Spain at the time) in the early 1700s at the request of a Jesuit and was based on a vision by a nun. A painting of Our Lady of Light was brought to Mexico in 1732 by another Jesuit and placed in the cathedral in the town of León. This newfound devotion became particularly popular in northern Mexico in the mid-eighteenth century after the image was credited with saving settlers near León from an attack by hostile Indians. In her role as defender of Christians against attacks by non-Christians, Our Lady of Light would be a logical choice for the chapel built for soldiers of the presidio of Santa Fe, tasked with defending both Spaniards and Pueblo Indians against the frequent attacks by Plains Indians.  It was a timely choice given a rash of attacks by Comanches at this time, including a devastating one in Taos on August 4, 1760, that caused much consternation in the province. Such fears likely influenced the choice of Our Lady of Light as the titular patron for the new chapel in 1761.
In 1776, Fray Francisco Anastacio Domínguez made an official visit to New Mexico and described the relatively new Castrense Chapel saying that the central niche in the altar screen held an oil-on-canvas painting of Our Lady of Light. He also described a carved stone panel of Our Lady of Light placed above the main entrance to the church (now in the niche). The oil painting in the central niche was most likely the painting attributed to Miguel Cabrera.  The stone altar screen must have been almost completed when the painting arrived in New Mexico, since it is too large for the central niche and evidence indicates that it may have been folded down on all sides in order to fit.  The two other paintings (now at UNM) flanked the altar screen.

Years later, when the Castrense chapel was torn down and the stone screen moved first to the Cathedral of Santa Fe (later to Cristo Rey), the painting was given to the Sisters of Loretto by then-Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy in the 1870s. The first superior of the order in Santa Fe, Mother Magdalen Hayden, was particularly devoted to Our Lady of Light and was buried in Rosario Cemetery in Santa Fe in 1894.  The painting hung in the academy established by the Sisters and was viewed by many Santa Feans when they attended school there through the first half of the 20th century.  The only portion of the Loretto establishment still surviving in Santa Fe is the famous Chapel of Loretto with its winding staircase.  When the sisters closed their convent and academy in Santa Fe in 1968, the painting was taken with the remaining nuns to the Sisters of Loretto convent in Littleton, Colorado.

By Donna Pierce
Former MoSCA Curator 

Collection Highlights

Coconut Chocolate Cup

18th Century

Coconut Husk and Silver

Gift of Mary Cabot Wheelwright (1956.53)

One of my favorite pieces in the SCAS collection has always been this delicate little cup carved from the hard husk of the fruit of the Mexican Pacific coconut (a subspecies of Coco nucifera L.) and mounted in silver. This type of vessel was invented in the Americas for drinking hot chocolate and was soon exported to Spain in quantity for the same purpose.

Chocolate was a New World product–unknown in Europe before the encounter with the Americas. It had been cultivated and consumed by ancient civilizations there for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. The beans of the cacao tree were fermented, dried, roasted, ground on a heated stone (metate), and mixed with water and spices, including chile, to make a drink.

In the sixteenth century, chocolate drinking spread rapidly among Spaniards (who added sugar) and then from Spain across Europe in the seventeenth century.

Spaniards had learned to drink chocolate from the Maya in the Yucatan and from the Aztecs in central Mexico. Among the Maya and Aztecs, chocolate had been a drink reserved for the upper classes or for special occasions.

During colonial times, it spread to all classes for daily use and was consumed in tremendous quantities all over Mexico, including in New Mexico where sherds of porcelain and majolica chocolate cups are found in archaeological excavations at colonial sites.

Mentions of chocolate drinking also appear in colonial documents from New Mexico. For example, in Santa Fe in the early 1660s, the Governor Bernardo de Mendizábal and his Italian-born wife Teresa de Aguilera de Roche took chocolate every afternoon at three o’clock and her personal chocolate chest included several coconut cups, such as this one, along with at least one Chinese porcelain cup and lacquered gourds called jícaras, all used for drinking chocolate.

Governors and military leaders requisitioned chocolate for their troops, Franciscan friars imported it for use in the missions, and merchants carried it in their inventories.

In the 1721 marriage dowry of Luisa Gómes del Castillo (Lujan) of Santa Cruz, New Mexico, a coconut cup “from Amula” mounted in silver is mentioned. Amula was a region in western Mexico in what is now Jalisco, just east of Zihuatanejo.

Not only did Luisa have a coconut cup (like this one) for drinking chocolate, but she also had three chocolate cups of Chinese porcelain, six of majolica, and one jícara. Obviously, Luisa, like many New Mexicans, enjoyed her chocolate!

By Donna Pierce
Former MoSCA Curator

Writing Chest (Escritorio)

Michoacán, Mexico
18th century

Hardwood, Gesso, Paint, Gold Leaf, Iron Hardware

Gift of Mrs. H. M. Greene (1956.89)

The Michoacán area of central Mexico had been known since before the arrival of the Spanish for the production of lacquered furniture and utensils, particularly trays and small gourd cups, or jícaras (from the Aztec word xicalli), used for drinking chocolate.

During the PreHispanic era, lacquer was made from an insect known as aje that thrived in the area. During the colonial period, the craft was continued with the encouragement of missionary friars and with influence from imported lacquerware from Asia.

Painted and lacquered furniture from Michoacán was exported all over New Spain, including to New Mexico where it frequently is mentioned in documents, such as in the 1721 dowry of Luisa Gómez del Castillo (Lujan) of Santa Cruz, New Mexico.

Luisa came into her marriage with two regular chests and two writing chests, all four from Michoacán in central Mexico. Regular chests did not have interior compartments or had only a single small one.

Writing chests, or escritorios (like the one in the SCAS collection seen here), had small drawers for holding writing supplies and other important items and were extremely popular all over Spain and Latin America.

Forty years later, the 1762 estate inventory of Juan Montes Vigil of Santa Fe lists six chests from Michoacan with one described as a “Michoacan writing chest with three drawers, with its table of the same; valued because of its fine painting, good appearance and gold leaf at (a whopping) 80 pesos.”

Nearly a century after Luisa’s marriage, Captain Manuel Delgado died suddenly in 1815. Delgado was born in 1739 in the town of Pachuca, north of Mexico City. After enlisting in the military, he was stationed near El Paso (Texas) and was later transferred to the Presidio of Santa Fe.

At the time of the 1790 census, Delgado was second in command at the Presidio and married to Josefa García de Noriega. They had at least five children by the time Josefa died in 1811. In 1814, at the age of seventy-five (and less than a year before his death) he married (much younger) Ana María Baca and came to live at the family’s extensive ranch called El Rancho de las Golondrinas (Ranch of the Swallows), now a living history museum south of Santa Fe.

In addition to being a military captain, Delgado was a trader on the Camino Real to Chihuahua and Mexico City. At the time of his death in 1815 he owned a house and store in downtown Santa Fe and the ranch house at Golondrinas as well as other ranches and mills.

Since he died intestate, a detailed and specific inventory was made of his estate. (The former Delgado Room exhibit at MOSCA was based on his inventory.) Delgado and his new wife owned six regular chests and one writing chest, all seven from Michoacán.

The seventeen imported Michoacán-made chests mentioned in these three inventories are only a few of the examples I have found that were being used in households in New Mexico throughout the colonial era. Out of the 151 chests I have seen mentioned in inventories, forty-nine (or almost a third) were from Michoacán. Obviously New Mexicans liked these colorful and useful furniture items.

By Donna Pierce
Former MoSCA Curator

Saint Barbara

New Mexico
c. 1782

Paint on Wood

Gift of Gerald and Kathleen Peters (2000.49)

Religious art had been imported to New Mexico from central Mexico from early on in the colonial period. But due to distance and expense, religious art was soon produced locally.

Although artists are mentioned in New Mexican documents as early as the beginning of the 1600s, no extant works of art can be associated with them. The identity, much less the biography, of most New Mexican artists, or santeros as they were known locally, is unknown.

Captain Bernardo Miera y Pacheco (1714-85) is the earliest New Mexican artist identified by name whose surviving works of art can be connected to him. Born near Burgos, Spain, in 1714, he apparently moved to New Mexico in 1751. He is listed in documents of the period from New Mexico as a sculptor and painter as well as a rancher-farmer, soldier, mathematician, and cartographer.

In New Mexico, Miera y Pacheco adopted at least one material from the Pueblo Indians. Commissioned to make art for various Pueblo mission churches, including Zuni, Miera y Pacheco would have lived in the pueblo temporarily during construction and would have probably hired and trained assistants from the pueblo population.

He learned from the Indians of Zuni of a local mineral (azurite) that could be made into a blue paint. Miera y Pacheco was so taken with the qualities of this paint that he advocated its exportation to Mexico for profit by the government.

Now known as Zuni blue, it is clear from documents that Miera y Pacheco used the Pueblo-style blue paint himself in conjunction with imported oil paints, and it has recently been identified through chemical testing on at least one of his pieces.

Indeed, later santeros in New Mexico often used imported pigments such as cinnabar and indigo alongside paints made from local vegetal and mineral materials similar to those used by the Pueblo Indians.

Although Zuni blue paint has not been identified on this lovely retablo of Saint Barbara attributed to Miera y Pacheco, it may well have been used since it was painted around 1780, well after the Zuni screen had been completed before 1776.

According to Christian legend, Saint Barbara is a virgin-martyr of the 4th century whose wealthy pagan father imprisoned her in a tower (seen behind her) when he discovered that she had converted to Christianity. He later had her martyred and when she died, he was struck dead by lightning.

As a result, she is prayed to against lightning strikes, so common in New Mexico, and explosions. By extension, she is the patron saint of miners and gunners. She is often depicted holding a martyr’s palm leaf and a monstrance with the wafer, symbolizing her dedication to Christian communion.

Looking beyond the Christian symbolism of Miera y Pacheco’s depiction of Saint Barbara, we can see a well-dressed beautiful young woman with significant jewelry. One might think that the retablo is based on paintings or prints from Europe or Latin American, which is probably true. However, the clothing and jewelry shown was not foreign to New Mexicans in the 1700s.

The English Dominican friar Thomas Gage lived in Mexico and Guatemala from 1625-37 and said: “Both men and women are excessive in their apparel wearing more silks than stuffs and cloth. Precious stones and pearls further much their vain ostentation.”

Portraits of the day and quotes by foreign travelers indicate that people of all classes wore jewelry in colonial Latin America. This seems to have been true to a certain extent in New Mexico as well.

For example, Saint Barbara is dressed in a green (possibly velvet) bodice and gold-brown skirt with a bright red cape thrown over her shoulders. Nicolasa Lujan of Santa Fe owned a “jacket of green Persian cloth” and “a skirt of gold cloth” in 1762.

In 1770, Monica Tomasa Martín of Taos owned a “crimson red velvet cape” and in 1748, the blacksmith Antonio Durán de Armijo of Taos still had his late wife’s “red velvet cape with silver trim,” the most expensive item in his estate.

Saint Barbara also wears a jeweled hair ornament. Hair combs and ornaments are described in documents in New Mexico. Among the silver utensils in the 1721 dowry of Luisa Gómez del Castillo (Lujan) of Santa Cruz, New Mexico, is an intriguing reference to a silver “tembladera.”

This word literally means “trembler,” but is sometimes used to describe a type of tankard. However, it is also the name for a type of hair ornament that was exceptionally popular in this era in Spain and Latin America made of silk flowers and jewels inserted into the hair or wig by springy wires so that they trembled or fluttered with the wearer’s movements.

We also see that Saint Barbara wears a choker necklace of large pearls. Luisa’s dowry lists a choker necklace of pearls mixed with corals with a reliquary locket in the middle. Pearls and coral were abundant in Mexico and South America. Both were harvested at numerous locations along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Pearls were exported to Spain in such tremendous quantities that when Peruvian author Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616) visited Seville in the late 1500s, he commented that pearls from the Americas “were sold in a heap . . . as if they were some kind of seed.”

Thomas Gage, mentioned earlier, when speaking of women of African descent in Mexico said: “She will be in fashion with her necklace chain and bracelets of pearls, and her earrings of some considerable jewels.”

Apparently, this was true of Indian and mixed-race women as well. According to Father Juan Viera reporting from Mexico in 1777: “Indian women . . . wear six or eight strings of pearls or coral around their necks, and reliquaries (such as this one), and rings of gold or silver.”

Apparently, this was true in New Mexico as well where in 1753 Juana Galbana, a native of Zia Indian Pueblo, owned a pair of matching coral bracelets and two silver reliquary lockets.

Although Saint Barbara does not wear earrings in Miera y Pacheco’s retablo, many women in New Mexico did, with chandelier or multi-pendant earrings particularly popular, such as the gold and pearl ones owned by Lugarda Quintana of Santa Cruz in 1749.

Often these earrings were so large and heavy that the French Countess D’Aulnoy wondered during her visit to Spain in 1680 how they did not tear the earlobes! One of Luisa’s sets was made of gold with both large and small pendant pearls; another pair was made of silver with a mixture of pearls and corals; and yet another pair was made of coral and rock crystal beads.

But the pièce de resistance in the Saint Barbara retablo is the large breast brooch or bodice ornament in the shape of a cross of gilded silver embedded with gemstones. Similar ones were owned in New Mexico by Gertrudes Armijo of Taos in 1748 (gold and coral) and Luisa Gómez in 1721 (gold and gemstones).

Such large brooches were attached to the upper center of the bodice (usually sewn or tied on with thin ribbons) and were quite spectacular, some with faux stones of paste or glass, others with diamonds from Brazil and emeralds from Colombia, and can be seen in portraits from Mexico.

Athough no portraits survive from colonial New Mexico, the painting of Saint Barbara by Santa Fe artist Bernardo Miera y Pacheco includes a cross-shaped gold breast brooch with gemstones, just like the one described in Luisa’s dowry.

By Donna Pierce
Former MoSCA Curator