Portrait of the Reverend Mother María Antonia de Rivera

Artist/maker unknown, Mexican

Geography:
Made in Mexico, North and Central America

Date:
c. 1757

Medium:
Oil on canvas

Dimensions:
49 x 31 5/8 inches (124.5 x 80.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 272, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:
1903-920

Credit Line:
The Dr. Robert H. Lamborn Collection, 1903

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Label:
In the eighteenth century it became fashionable among Mexican families to commission portraits of daughters who were taking their final vows to become nuns. Known as monjas coronadas, "crowned nuns," the portraits showed the young women as brides of Christ, wearing wedding rings and elaborate floral crowns. The inscriptions on this painting, some added after the death of the sitter, indicate that she was born in 1736, took vows in 1757, became a prioress or director of her order in 1791, and died in 1806.

Additional information:
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    This portrait of a beautiful young woman, crowned with flowers as if on her day of investiture into religious orders of the Catholic church, carries with it a great deal of information, yet all the "hard" evidence only adds to the essential mystery and charm of the image. The central inscription identifies the sitter as the Reverend Mother Maria Antonia de Rivera, who took her vows as a nun on December 12, 1757. It is painted over, and partially obscures, an earlier inscription that records that she was elected prioress in 1791 and died in 1806. Is it, on first guess, a kindly evocation of woman's youth, done after she had achieved high rank and power? Or was her status such that her portrait was painted upon entry into the convent and her deeds only inscribed later, perhaps even after her death? Or, a most happy speculation, was each new nun portrayed at this level of refinement, with this painting being a rare survivor of some late nineteenth-century sacking of the convent in one of the numerous anticlerical movements that swept Mexico? Joseph J. Rishel, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 351.

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