The Divine Shepherdess
José Campeche y Jordán, Puerto Rican, 1751 - 1809
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José Campeche was the leading painter of colonial San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he spent his entire life. Although he painted for the highest-ranking members of San Juan society, he came from a family of modest background. His father Tomás, who worked as a gilder and painter, was a former slave who had purchased his freedom, while his mother María came from a humble Spanish family in the Canary Islands. Campeche received his early training from his father, but his work was transformed by the arrival in 1775 of Luis Paret y Alcázar, an exiled Spanish court painter who familiarized the younger artist with the elaborate ornamentation of the Rococo style then popular in Europe. While Campeche was renowned for his portraits of local elites, it was likely his religious images that provided the bulk of his income. Campeche’s charming depiction of the Virgin Mary as a simple shepherdess is based on an iconography conceived in 1703 by Isidore of Seville, a Capuchin friar. Isidore was inspired to devise an image that would attract widespread veneration, which he promoted in theological texts and commissioned from local artists. In Isidore’s description, the Virgin sits under a tree, wearing a red gown and blue mantle, with a shepherd’s hat and crook. She feeds roses to her flock, while a lost sheep is chased by a wolf in the distance. The lost sheep calls out the words “Ave Maria,” and Saint Michael the Archangel strikes down the wolf. This new iconography appeared in numerous paintings and sculptures, and devotion to the Divine Shepherdess spread throughout Spain and the Spanish colonies. In his version, Campeche omits the roses and instead places the Christ Child, wearing his own shepherd’s cap and carrying a black-beaded rosary, in the Virgin’s lap. Campeche’s rendition enchants us with its gentle emotion, soft palette, and careful underdrawing, much of which is visible to the naked eye.
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