of Ex-Voto and Retablo Paintings
from Spanish: "Blessed art thou, virgin of Guadalupe, for healing
my spine when my horse, at full gallop, fell on top of me when it was
frightened by a snake. I could not walk and I prayed to you. After 60
days I am walking again. Thank You. Mr. Ramon Jalisco 1931"
Our Lady of Guadalupe
In Colonial times it was the Spanish who brought the Ex-Voto idea to
Mexico. Ex-Votos are one of the most intriguing forms of Mexican folk
art. The origin of the word Ex-Voto is Latin, and it means "for
solemn vow or promise". An Ex-Voto painting consists of three
A scene depicting a tragedy or someone with a grave illness or injury
2) A Saint or martyr that intervened to "save the day"
3) An inscription describing the tragic event and giving thanks for
the divine intervention.
These paintings were commissioned by the person depicted in the Ex-Voto
or by friends or close members of the family who were grateful for the
intervention. They were inexpensive and usually crudely painted on small
sheets of tin and once completed they were hung on the walls of the
church. Most were painted by an anonymous amateur artists who interpreted
people's stories and produced these tokens of appreciation. They were
rarely ever signed. Because the subject matter is unique for each Ex-Voto,
they are still being painted by hand today. The older Ex-Votos are highly
collectable and some worth hundreds of dollars.
Before the 1800s, Retablos were large gilded, painted and carved screens
which adorned churches. In the 19th century, they became smaller in
size, typically painted by unskilled anonymous artists who were commissioned
or who simply painted in bulk to sell in small booths outside the church.
The Retablos were paintings of the Virgin Mary, Christ or saints, copied
from images in churches and rarely signed by the artists. In the 1920s,
the hand painted Retablos were replaced by the abundance and availability
of larger cheaper lithographs. Today the old hand painted Retablos are
collected by individuals and museums as art pieces and can be worth
hundreds of dollars each.
are sometimes mistakenly referred to as a Retablo. Some distinguish between
the two by labeling the Ex-Voto as "Ex-Voto Retablos"
and the Retablos as "Retablos Santos". Frida
and Diego had a collection of hundreds of Ex-Votos and Retablos on display throughout
their home. Frida was known to have removed a few from the walls of churches
for her own personal collection. She sometimes used elements of an Ex-Voto in
her works to create her own "Frida Style" Ex-voto.
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