Christ of Malta (El Señor de Malta)

Christ of Malta (El Señor de Malta)

Late 1700s
Artist
Unknown
Country
Bolivia
painting
Oil paint on fabric
Gift of Dr. Belinda Straight
1985.533
Unknown. Christ of Malta (El Señor de Malta). Late 1700s. Oil paint on fabric. Gift of Dr. Belinda Straight. 1985.533.
This object is currently on view
Dimensions
height: 48.25 in, 122.5550 cm; width: 33.25 in, 84.4550 cm; frame height: 53 7/8 in, 136.8425 cm; frame width: 38 in, 96.52 cm; frame depth: 2 1/8 in, 5.3975 cm
Inscription
Along bottom of canvas: Copia de una Ymgen de Jesus Crucificado cuio original se venera en Malta. Pinto la el Demonio a instancias de una Muger esclava suia, que de se a ba como havian puesto los Judios al Salvador en la Cruz Recistiase el Demonio al principio pr. temer qe. a su vista se havia de Combertir aquella Muger como e fectimante se combertio a Dios Nro Sor qe quiso por aquel medio rescatar aquella Alma por qn. Tanto padecio. Translation of inscription: Copy of an image of Jesus Crucified, the original of which is venerated in Malta. It was painted by the Devil at the insistence of a woman in His power who wished to see how the Jews had placed the Savior on the Cross. The Devil resisted at first, for fear that at the sight the woman would be converted, as, in fact she was converted to God, our Lord, who in this manner rescued that soul who had suffered so much.
Department
Mayer Center, Latin American Art
Collection
Latin American Art

This striking painting depicts an image of the crucified Christ popularly known as the Christ or Lord of Malta. It is one of many paintings of the same subject made in workshops in the cities of La Plata (Sucre), Potosí, and La Paz (all present-day Bolivia) during the 1700s, and then widely disseminated across the upper and southern regions of the Viceroyalty of Peru and the northern region of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata.

According to its inscription, the painting is a copy after an image of Christ “venerated in Malta.” The art historian Héctor Schenone has recently suggested that the source of this image is a popular sculpture known as the “Miraculous Crucifix of Ta’Giezu” venerated at the Franciscan Church of Saint Mary of Jesus in Valetta, on the Mediterranean island of Malta, and that the Maltese image may have been imported into South America by way of a print. However, the existence of a sculpture of the crucified Christ also known as “El Señor de Malta” or “Christ of Malta” in a church in the small town of Vallegrande, Bolivia, suggests that the painted images may have had a more local and immediate source, albeit one still linked to Malta. Although little research exists on the South American sculpture, one legend relates that it was first brought to the city of Cuzco by a descendent of a member of the Knights of the Order of Malta. During the colonial period, the sculpture traveled throughout the Andes as the property of various owners before arriving in Vallegrande in the early nineteenth century where it remains today. Thus, although the South American paintings may indeed be related to the sculpture in Malta, it appears that a local cult which developed around the sculpture in Bolivia may have had a more direct impact on the painted image’s popularity, production, and reproduction.

Like many paintings of the same subject, this one also includes an extended inscription relating a miracle story associated with the image. It describes how a woman enslaved by the Devil begged a demon to show her an image of Christ crucified on the cross. The demon at first resisted, but when he finally complied the woman was instantaneously converted to Christianity and her soul was saved. Other paintings of the subject include lengthier inscriptions offering indulgences to those who pray before the image.

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

Known Provenance
Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail provenance@denverartmuseum.org, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.