Examples of Ex-Voto and Retablo Paintings

Ex-Voto Painting
Retablo Painting

Translated 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 basic elements:

1) A scene depicting a tragedy or someone with a grave illness or injury
2) A Saint or martyr that intervened to "save the day" and
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.

Ex-Voto paintings 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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