Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Alegoría de la Virgen de Guadalupe) -mural by Mexican painter Fermín Revueltas (1903-1935) located in the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (today San Ildefonso Museum), in the Historic Center of Mexico City- is the allegorical representation of the traditional veneration of the Guadalupe in Mexico.
The pyramidal composition of this encaustic workplaces the figure of the Virgin in the foreground; on either side of her are two women symbolizing mestizaje, while the lower part shows a group of men and women with characteristics from different regions of Mexico.
Revueltas began painting his first mural in December 1922 and finished it around June 1923. It stands out not only for its innovative formal proposal, but also for the theme it addresses: mestizaje, which is linked to El desembarco de los españoles y la cruz plantada en tierras nuevas, by Ramón Alva de la Canal, as well as to Masacre en el Templo Mayor, by Jean Charlot, and La fiesta del Señor de Chalma, by Fernando Leal, murals that are also in the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso.
"In the case of Alegoría de la Virgen de Guadalupe, it shows pilgrims visiting the Guadalupana, although it could also be an apparition of the Virgin on the Cerro del Tepeyac. It is a triangular composition that somehow evokes a pyramid and alludes to what anthropologist Anita Brenner would later call 'the idols behind the altars'; that is, the indigenous religiosity that has survived through Christianity, or the transformation of the Catholic religion into a syncretic space," says Sandra Zetina, a researcher at the Institute of Aesthetic Research.
Very much in tune with the ideas about mestizaje that José Vasconcelos-at the time Secretary of Public Education in Álvaro Obregón's government and main promoter of Mexican muralism-would expound two years later in his essay La raza cósmica, Revueltas presents in this mural individuals with different physiognomies and skin tones.
"Among them, we can see a woman dressed as a Tehuana, another one carrying her young son on her back, another one seated with a child in her arms, and a couple of men wearing hats (one of them covers part of his face with a blanket) who could pass for Zapatistas", comments the researcher.
Like Jean Charlot and Fernando Leal, Fermín Revueltas studied and taught at the first Outdoor Painting School, founded in 1913 by Alfredo Ramos Martínez in the town of Santa Anita, in Iztapalapa.
"It was there that Revueltas met Luz, an indigenous model from Milpa Alta who spoke Nahuatl and who posed for Diego Rivera, Jean Charlot, Fernando Leal, and himself, and where he came into contact with rural culture, clearly present in Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe," says Zetina.
Large technological apparatus
As part of the research project "Space and Color. Interdisciplinary studies of Mexican modern art", coordinated by Zetina, a multidisciplinary team of the National Laboratory of Sciences for the Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (LANCIC) analyzes the materials of the Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe to discover how its creative process was, but also to know its state of conservation and how it can be preserved in the future.
Sandra Zetina and the university members of her team rely on the resources of LANCIC, of which they are part and whose headquarters are in the Institutes of Physics, Chemistry, and Aesthetic Research of the UNAM, as well as in the National Institute of Nuclear Research and the Center for Corrosion Research of the Autonomous University of Campeche.
Members of the Institute of Physics apply spectrometric techniques with portable equipment to perform non-invasive in situ analysis of the pigments and charges present in Revueltas' mural; those of the Institute of Chemistry use chromatographic and nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to determine the composition of its organic materials (varnishes, binders, and organic pigments), and those of the Institute of Aesthetic Research use imaging techniques and optical and electron microscopy to examine the manufacturing technique, define the pigments and establish the transformation processes of the materials.
"This great technological apparatus allows us to do a kind of reverse engineering to discover how the mural was painted and, from its materials, to understand the images it contains. However, by focusing on its creative process and its material history, we also want to know what state of conservation it is in and what options there are for preserving it as well as possible," Zetina points out.
Some of the results of these studies will appear in several texts to be published by the San Ildefonso Museum and the National Institute of Fine Arts and Literature. They will also be disseminated in scientific journals, lectures, conferences, and public talks.
"Likewise, we plan to put together all the results in a book on the materiality and the pictorial and spatial practices of the first Mexican muralists," says the researcher.
Allegory of the Virgin of Guadalupe is the second mural studied by experts at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso (the first was Diego Rivera's The Creation).
When they finish with it, they plan to analyze Massacre in the Templo Mayor, by Jean Charlot, The Feast of the Lord of Chalma, by Fernando Leal, and The Spirit of the West (The Elements), by David Alfaro Siqueiros.
The research project "Space and Color. Interdisciplinary studies of Mexican modern art" is a beneficiary of the Support Program for Research and Technological Innovation Projects (PAPIIT) of the General Directorate of Academic Staff Affairs of the UNAM.