José de Páez (1720-1790)
The Divine Shepherdess
signed 'Joseph de Paez fecit' (lower right)
oil on copper
814 x 534 in. (21 x 14.6 cm.)
Eman L. Beck and Mary Payne Beck collection, Mexico City (acquired circa 1915) and later Tucson Arizona (1940-1960).
W. K. Newcomb collection, Ontario (by descent from the above circa 1960).
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Lot Essay

According to Brother Isidoro (1662-1750), a Capuchin monk and nobleman from Seville, the Holy Virgin appeared to him in a dream. In his vision, he saw the Holy Virgin tending to a flock of sheep in a meadow. Dressed as a shepherdess and holding a crook, the Virgin told Isidoro to have her image painted so that others would learn about her. Soon after, a local painter, Alonso Miguel de Tovar (1678-1758) was the first to portray the Virgin as a shepherdess as instructed by Brother Isidoro.1 The icon of the Virgin, seated on a rock while tenderly guarding her flock would have certainly resonated with the faithful, who were farmers, field laborers, shepherds, and people from the countryside whose livelihoods were often precarious as any number of circumstances, natural or otherwise, could upend their existence at any moment.
José de Páez (1720-1790) who trained under Nicolas Enríquez was a prolific and renowned painter of religious themes but also noted for a series of casta paintings, a genre depicting the ethnic and racial combinations due to mestizaje in viceregal Mexico. A favorite of the Franciscan friars, Páez also painted images of the Sacred Heart for the Order. His religious paintings, such as this work, were intended for private or public devotion depending on the commission. Páez was praised for his rather delicate treatment of sacred figures which is evident in this work. The Virgin sits on a rock under a tree while two cherubs flutter around her holding a golden crown as she is the Queen of Heaven; around her head, are twelve stars which allude to the ancient tribes of Israel as well as Christ’s apostles. The flock under her care, look up from a patch filled with roses as the Virgin was the “rose without thorns.” In the background, the Child Jesus is also tending to his flock. Both images reinforce the sacred roles the Virgin and Holy Child held as shepherds of God’s children, who like sheep, need to be protected and not led astray. The iconography of the Virgin as a shepherdess is consistent with her role as the Mother of Christ who is the Lamb of God and devotion to this cult grew in Europe, quickly spreading to viceregal Spain. In the eighteenth century, the Capuchin and Franciscan friars were ardent promoters of the cult of the Virgin Mary as Divina Pastora or Divine Shepherdess.
M.J. Aguilar, Ph.D.

Post Lot Text

1 Alonso Miguel de Tovar worked in Seville as well as in Madrid where he was asked to be part of several royal projects at the Court of Philip V. A painting of the Divina Pastora, ca. 1720, is in the collection of the Museo Carmen Thyssen, Málaga, Spain.

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