Mayer Center, Department of Latin American Art

Collection Highlights

unknown maker

Virgin of the Victory of Málaga (Nuestra Señora de la Victoria de Málaga)

Unknown artist
Virgin of the Victory of Málaga
Peru, about 1740  
Oil paint and gold on canvas
Denver Art Museum: Gift of John C. Freyer for the Frank Barrows Freyer Collection, 1969.345


As indicated by the inscription along the bottom edge, this painting is a portrait of a famous sculpture of the Virgin Mary from the city of Málaga in Spain. Although the artist has not been identified, it was painted in the Viceroyalty of Peru in the late 1600s or 1700s. The extraordinary use of gold to decorate the textiles and architectural elements in this painting is characteristic of artistic centers in the Andean highlands, such as the cities of Cuzco and Potosí. The painting is a type commonly referred to as a “statue painting,” since it represents a specific miracle-working sculpture in a two-dimensional painted format. When Spaniards immigrated to the Americas they often retained their devotions to Old World miraculous sculptures. Statue paintings, such as this one, thus provided worshippers with the ability to offer devotion to the original image from afar.

By the early 1500s, the statue of the Virgin of the Victory of Málaga in Spain was under the care of the Minims, a religious order founded in Italy in the 1400s. By the mid-1600s a group of Minims from Spain founded a religious establishment in Lima, Peru, described as being dedicated to “Our Lady of Victory.” During the same time period several residents of Potosí—a city with close ties to the famed Cerro Rico silver mine—donated objects of precious metal to the sculpture in Spain, including silver oil lamps and a silver crescent moon. This painting portrays similar silver objects. Hanging oil lamps are partially visible in the upper corners, while a crescent moon sits at the feet of the Virgin. Although now tarnished with age, these elements were once brilliant silver, and like the gold that covers much of the canvas, reveal the vast material wealth that went into maintaining such trans-Atlantic devotions.

For more information see Jeffrey Schrader, “Statue Paintings: The Wayfaring Marian Images of Spain in Bolivia,” in The Art of Painting in Colonial Bolivia, edited by Suzanne Stratton-Pruitt, 233-52. Philadelphia: Saint Joseph’s University Press, 2017.

--Sabena Kull, 2017-18 Mayer Fellow for Spanish Colonial Art

unknown maker. Virgin of the Victory of Málaga (Nuestra Señora de la Victoria de Málaga). Late 1600s or 1700s. Oil paint on canvas with gold leaf. Gift of John C. Freyer for the Frank Barrows Freyer Collection. 1969.345.

Serafín Antonio Almeida

Easy Chair (Butaca)

Serafín Antonio Almeida
Easy Chair (Butaca)
Venezuela, 1795-1800
Cedar veneered in gateado and carreto woods, with fabric upholstery
49 x 30 5/16 x 31 1/2 in. 
Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Rafael Romero

Serafín Antonio Almeida (Venezuelan, 1752-1822), Easy Chair (Butaca), Venezuela, 1795-1800. Cedar veneered in gateado and carreto woods, fabric upholstery. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Patricia Phelps de Cisneros in honor of Rafael Romero, 2017.121

Cristobal de Villalpando

Joseph Claims Benjamin as His Slave

Cristóbal de Villalpando (ca. 1649-1714) is considered the most accomplished artist of the colonial period in Mexico as well as a pioneer in developing a painting style decidedly divergent from European traditions and unique to Mexico.  Although compositions are based in part on engravings of paintings by Rubens, Villalpando and his followers moved beyond the European tradition by tightening the focus of the composition and moving it to the front of the picture plane, creating a shallow space for the action, and emphasizing a horizontal stagelike format.  They also retained many traits from Mannerism, long out of favor in Europe, such as contrived body and hand positions with elongated limbs as well as diaphanous and surreal textile colors. This example, signed by the artist, comes from a well-known series by the artist on the Life of Joseph of the Old Testament.  It not only serves as an outstanding example of his oeuvre, but also demonstrates the interest in Old Testament iconography common in Latin America in the late Baroque period.
--Donna Pierce, 2015

Cristobal de Villalpando (Mexico), Joseph Claims Benjamin as His Slave, 1700–1714. Oil paint on canvas. 
Denver Art Museum: Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2009.761 

St. Ferdinand

This statue of Saint Ferdinand, the King of Castile and León in Spain, was originally part of an altarscreen installed in the Cathedral of Querétaro, Mexico, around 1750. Many cathedrals in Spain and Latin America installed main altar pieces dedicated to royal saints. Statues of Saint Ferdinand were often paired with ones of his friend and cousin, Saint Louis IX of France. The altarscreen was replaced with a Neoclassical one in the nineteenth century. The Denver statue was collected in Querétaro in 1920; its matching statue of Saint Louis is in a private collection in Mexico City.
     As in Europe, the statues in Latin American altarscreens were carved of wood. Fabric areas were treated with a technique known in Spanish as estofado, in which tissue-thin sheets of hammered gold were applied to a red gesso ground. Next, paint was applied over the gold leaf. Then the paint layer was stamped or etched through to reveal the gold underneath, in imitation of the elaborate brocade fabrics of the period. Areas depicting skin, such as the faces and hands, were created using a different technique known as encarnación, in which white gesso was painted in flesh tones, shellacked, and gently sanded. The process was repeated until the buildup of layers achieved a glowing surface imitating real skin. 
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

. St. Ferdinand. circa 1730. Paint, gesso, gold leaf and fabric on wood.. Gift from Sam Houston in honor of Helen Bonfils. 1956.91A-B.

Luis Garcia Hevia, Uncertain

Woman with Earring

While colonial portraits aimed to show the status of the sitter rather than a physical likeness, a focus on realism and individual identity emerged in the early 1800s with the independence movement in Latin America. This post-colonial artist painted a highly individualized portrait that captures the essence of this elderly woman. Although the prominent gold and pearl drop earring hints at her wealth, this stand-out element also contributes to the woman’s confident—almost defiant—attitude.
-- Julie Wilson Frick, 2017

Luis Garcia Hevia, Woman with an Earring. Bogotá, Colombia, 1825–1830. Oil paint on canvas. 31 1/2 x 24 1/2 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Dr. Belinda Straight; 1984.718.

Matteo da Lecce, Mateo Pérez de Alesio

Virgen de la Leche

  This late 1500s painting on copper panel by Mateo Pérez de Alesio (also known as Matteo da Lecce) represents a Nursing Madonna (Madonna Lactans), known in Spanish as Virgen de la Leche, a very old iconography of the Madonna and Child in which the Virgin Mary is shown breastfeeding the infant Jesus. Pérez de Alesio, who is considered one of the founding fathers of the art of painting in colonial Peru, drew inspiration for his composition from a work by Scipione Pulzone, a renowned Neapolitan painter active in Rome in the last third of the 16th century. The Virgen de la Leche was a popular devotion in Lima and Pérez de Alesio painted several versions of this iconography, all of them roughly the same size and on copper panel.

  Born in Alezio, Southern Italy, circa 1547 to a Spanish father, Antonio Pérez, and an Italian mother, Madama Lucente, Pérez de Alesio grew up on the fringes of the Spanish empire in Italy. While still a teenager, the aspiring artist moved to Rome to learn the art of painting. In the 1560s he has been documented as working for Cesare Nebbia painting the murals of the famed Villa d’Este in Tivoli, near Rome, the retreat commissioned by the powerful Cardinal Ippolito II d'Este (1509–1572).

  He was an ambitious young artist eager to make a name for himself; in 1574 Pérez de Alesio, together with the painter Guidonio Guelfi del Borgo, received the important commission to paint a fresco for the entrance of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican to replace a damaged work by Domenico Ghirlandaio. Between 1575 and 1576 the artist worked on the fresco decoration of the Oratorio del Gonfalone in Rome. Like many painters of this era, Pérez de Alesio moved to different places looking for job opportunities. He worked on the island of Malta between 1577 and 1581 on the fresco mural decoration of the Throne Room of the Grandmaster's Palace, Valletta. Returning to Rome the painter produced and published a series of 15 large engravings of his work in Malta: I veri ritratti della guerra, & dell’assedio, & assalti dati alla isola di Malta dall’armata turchesca l’anno 1565. In 1583 Pérez de Alesio moved to Seville where he received several important commissions including a fresco depicting Saint Christopher (1584) for the Cathedral.    

  Around 1589–90 Pérez de Alesio, together with an assistant named Pedro Pablo Morón, immigrated to Lima, Peru. They traveled to the New World as part of the group that accompanied the powerful Viceroy García Hurtado de Mendoza. Pérez de Alesio became the official painter of the Viceroy and in 1590 painted his portrait. In January 3rd, 1598 he married in Lima Doña María Fuentes de la Cadena with whom he had children. His career in the “City of Kings,” (as Lima is known) was very successful as he was an artist who managed to fully express the religious feeling of his time. Between 1590 and 1606 Perez de Alesio produced works for many important churches including the Convent of Santo Domingo, the church of La Merced and the Cathedral in Lima. He died in Lima before 1616.

― Jorge Rivas Pérez, 2016

Mateo Pérez de Alesio / Matteo da Lecce, Peru, Virgen de la Leche, about 1600. Oil on copper. Denver Art Museum: Purchased with funds from Frederick and Jan Mayer, Alianza de las Artes Americanas, Carl Patterson, David and Boo Butler, Spanish Colonial Acquisitions and Deaccession Funds including by exchange the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Renchard Family, 2016.213


When Francisco Pizarro and his small army arrived in Peru in 1532, to their delight they found that gold and silver were abundant. American Indians had a long tradition of metalworking techniques, including filigree, casting, and hammering. Silversmiths from Spain began to immigrate to the Americas shortly after the conquest and introduced European forms and styles. Through time the synthesis of New and Old World styles became integrated, culminating in the lush excesses of colonial Baroque and Rococo metalwork.      
     This solid silver rectangular tray was crafted between 1725 and 1750 in Bolivia. It is densely decorated with flora and fauna including sunflowers, birds, deer, humans, and boar. Vines  intertwine throughout, connecting all of the imagery. A central nude figure has a crucifix on his chest and carries a flowering staff, indicating that he is John the Baptist. Perhaps this tray was used in association with the sacrament of baptism. A mate to this extraordinary piece survives in a private collection, with the main difference being that the central figure faces the opposite direction.
--Donna Pierce and Julie Wilson Frick, 2015

Unknown artist, Platter, Bolivia, 1725-1750. Silver. Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Robert Appleman family, 1986.456

Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga

Apparition of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano

As part of the colonization effort in the Americas, Spaniards founded towns with cathedrals and civic buildings and established mission churches and schools in Indian settlements. Artists emigrated from Europe, particularly from Spain, Flanders, and Italy, to decorate these new buildings. Sebastián López de Arteaga arrived in Mexico from Seville around 1640. Since he died in 1652, only a handful of paintings survive by his hand.
     This large, spectacular painting of the archangel Michael is signed by Arteaga in the lower left and dates from around 1650. It depicts the appearance of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano (in the boot heel of Italy) to a local bishop (lower left). Michael is explaining to the bishop that he caused an arrow shot by an angry farmer at his runaway bull to return toward the farmer instead. The miracle scene is visible near Michael’s left knee.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

Sebastian Lopez de Arteaga, Apparition of Saint Michael on Mount Gargano. Mexico, about 1650. Oil on canvas, 75 x 61 in. Gift of Frank Barrows Freyer Collection by exchange and Gift of Frederick and Jan Mayer; 1994.27.

Juan Javier Salazar

La Portola

Juan Javier Salazar (Lima, 1955-2016) is a conceptual and visual artist that lives and works in Lima, Peru. Salazar employs diverse media which often includes the manufacture of ready-made or handmade utilitarian objects that often reference ancient artifacts and recall the rich material cultures of pre-Columbian Peru, such as this vessel inspired by Moche “horseshoe” pottery. Salazar’s handmade objects frequently question, with irony and sarcasm, a wide range of social and political issues including views of national identity, urban life practices in poor urban areas, especially recycling and upcycling, notions of place and history, and the nature and circulation of objects in contemporary Peru.

--Jorge Rivas Pérez, 2016

Juan Javier Salazar, La Portola, 2016. Glazed ceramic; 7 x 4 x 7 in. Denver Art Museum: Gift of Natalia Majluf in honor of Jorge Rivas, 2016.302. © Estate of Juan Javier Salazar

Juan Rodriguez Juarez

St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor

Descended from a long line of artists in colonial Mexico, Juan Rodríguez Juárez was the most accomplished artist of his day. His great grandfather, Luis Juárez, founded the family dynasty of painters in the early 17th century. In addition, Juan's grandfather, father and brother were also well known artists. Signed by the artist, this painting joins others in the Denver Art Museum collection signed by his great grandfather, Luis Juárez, and by Juan's brother, Nicolas.
     St. Rose of Lima (1586-1617), the first saint born in the New World, lived her entire life in Lima, Peru. Known for her Christian devotion as a child, she entered a Dominican convent (seen in the background) at an early age. In the painting, the band of rose thorns she wore around her forehead in imitation of the Crown of Thorns is visible. She had a particular devotion to the Christ Child, as evidenced in this painting which is based on a famous one by Murillo now in the Lázaro Galdiano Museum in Madrid. In addition, the accomplished modeling of the white fabrics creates a strong sense of volume and recalls the works of another great Spanish artist, Zurburan.
   Unlike the Murillo prototype, Rodríguez Juárez has superimposed a portrait of a donor figure in the lower right corner of the composition. The lovely portrait depicts a young woman, probably named for the saint, wearing an elegant dress decorated with embroidery and lace and elaborate jewelry of gold, pearls and emeralds, both typical of the upper classes in Spain and Mexico around 1700.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

Juan Rodriguez Juarez, Mexico, St. Rose of Lima with Christ Child and Donor, Circa 1700
Denver Art Museum Collection: Gift of the Collection of Frederick and Jan Mayer, 2014.216
Photograph courtesy of the Denver Art Museum

unknown maker

Cross finial

When Hernán Cortés and his small army arrived in Mexico in 1519, to their delight they found that gold and silver were abundant. American Indians had a long tradition of metalworking techniques, including filigree, casting, and hammering. Silversmiths from Spain began to immigrate to the Americas shortly after the conquest and introduced European forms and styles. Through time the synthesis of New and Old World styles became integrated, culminating in the lush excesses of colonial Baroque and Rococo metalwork.
     The emeralds in this cross have been identified as coming from the famous emerald mines in Colombia, with some of them from the large Muzo mine, known for the exceptional quality and clarity of its stones. In microscopic analysis, the tear-shaped emeralds show evidence that they were originally cut with Pre-Columbian quartz stone tools to form beads. In the colonial period they were reshaped with metal tools to be incorporated into the cross to serve as an ornament at the top of a crown for a statue of a saint or the Virgin Mary. The pearls have been identified as Venezuelan, perhaps from the famous Island of the Margaritas off the coast.
-- Donna Pierce, 2015

Cross Finial. Colombia, about 1600. Gold, pearls, and emeralds. 4 x 1 1/2 in. Gift of the Stapleton Foundation of Latin American Colonial Art, made possible by the Renchard family; 1990.526

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The Mayer Center symposia are held annually, alternating between Latin American art and art of the Ancient Americas topics. Past Latin American Art symposia topics include:

  • Materiality: Making Spanish America (2018)
  • Circulación: Movement of Ideas, Art and People in Spanish America (2016)
  • New England / New Spain: Portraiture in the Colonial Americas, 1492-1850 (2014)
  • Festivals and Daily Life in the Arts of Colonial Latin America (2012)
  • At the Crossroads: The Arts of Spanish America and Early Global Trade, 1492-1850 (2010)
  • The Arts of South America, 1492-1850 (2008)
  • Asia and Spanish America: Trans-Pacific Artistic and Cultural Exchange, 1500-1850 (2006)
  • Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life, 1521-1821 (2004)
  • Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial Art in the Collections at the Denver Art Museum (2002)
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