Many aspects of the Roman Catholic cult of Mary are deeply rooted in religious beliefs of the Old Testament and pre-Christian ritual associated with fertility, fecundity, maternity, nourishment, and other core human needs. For many centuries, Catholic Marian devotion manifested itself in myriad forms throughout Europe, supported by apparition accounts, dress, physical appearance and other local cultural and ethnic patterns. With the arrival of the Spanish, Portuguese and French in the Americas in the early sixteenth century, the Virgin Mary appeared in hundreds of communities—on the banks of rivers, inside caves, atop mountains, and other places which had been sacred long before the landing of Europeans. Usually, the Virgin appeared to ordinary folks, often speaking indigenous languages, wearing local dress and manifesting familiar somatic features. Her presence in art has provided centuries of inspiration for believers throughout Latin America and continues to be a comforting model of sacrifice and fidelity.
This exhibition draws from SAMA’s rich collection of Marian images to illustrate the broad variation of the genre and demonstrate the agility of religious art to adjust to new times, places and cultures.