Double-sided carving of Saint Michael and the Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and John the Baptist

Double-sided carving of Saint Michael and the Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and John the Baptist

circa 1696
Diego de Reinoso
Mexican Colonial
Carved alabaster (gypsum) on a modern wood base.
Gift of Robert J. Stroessner

Diego de Reinoso, Double-Sided Carving of Saint Michael and the Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic and John the Baptist, about 1696. Alabastar; 7 × 3⅜ × 3⅜ in. Gift of Robert J. Stroessner, 1991.1150.

This object is currently on view
height: 3.25 in, 8.2550 cm; width: 2.25 in, 5.7150 cm; depth: .875 in, 2.2225 cm; overall height: 7 in, 17.7800 cm; overall width: 3.375 in, 8.5725 cm; overall depth: 3.375 in, 8.5725 cm
Diego de Reinoso Inbentor
Mayer Center, Latin American Art
Latin American Art

At just three and one-quarter inches tall this object, dating to the late 1600s or early 1700s, was skillfully carved, in great detail out of gypsum (alabaster), with the aid of a magnification lense. The winged St. Michael the Archangel is on one side while the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child with Saint Dominic (right) and Saint John the Baptist (left) is on the other. The figures are surrounded by an octagonal framework and pegs protrude from either side, indicating that the piece was once suspended in a larger framework. It is inscribed on the underside with small script lettering, “Diego de Reinoso Inbentor”. It is unclear if Diego de Reinoso is the artist, patron or creator of the iconography (in the form of a print source) on which the carving is based.

The same artist also inscribed (“Diego Reinoso Inventor en Mxico 1696”) another approximately three inch tall octagonal stone carving of Saint Dominic with a dog (Victoria and Albert Museum, London; http:// Both carvings have squat-proportioned figures standing on a corbel supported platform. The octagonal framework on both objects has a low-relief decorative carving of a “tree of life” motif (no more than a ¼” in height), with floral and vegetal emanations including pomegranates and wheat or lotus. Stout human figures and profuse floral decoration is common in Mexican sculpture and architectural ornament of the period.

However examining the minute details of these objects through high-resolution photography reveals intriguing global stylistic elements. Clearly the artist was creating Christian images by referencing European print sources to formulate his iconography and composition but an anomaly appears in Dominic’s dog (V&A)—it resembles an Asian guardian lion/dog or foo dog. In addition, the snail-shell shaped clouds under the feet of St. Michael (Denver) closely resemble Indian carving techniques used to indicate hair on ivory saints (Portuguese Goa) and manes on lion/elephant forms found on ivory throne legs (Orissa). The minuscule “tree of life” motif on the octagonal framework brings to mind the garden and floral forms associated with the Mughal Empire (1526–1857), a pattern found on Indian palampore textiles that were traded around the world.

During this period European produced decorative arts were heavily influenced by Asian art as a result of a global trade networks. But trade ships also brought eastern goods and emigrants to Mexico as early as the late 1500s. While the artist who inscribed "Diego de Reinoso" was working in Mexico in the late 1600s his carvings are atypical for the time and place in which they were created and are stylistically unique in the corpus of Mexican made stone carved in the manner of ivory—appearing European, Asian and Mexican all at once.
--Julie Wilson Frick, 2015
see also

Known Provenance
Bequest of Robert Stroessner 27 December 1991 to the Denver Art Museum. Provenance research is on-going at the Denver Art Museum. Please e-mail, if you have questions, or if you have additional information to share with us.