December 2, 2017
Anonymous- Spanish Colonial, Saint Michael The Archangel, 18th century, oil on canvas, 72 1/2 x 46 1/2 inches. Brigham Young University Museum of Art, gift of Marguerite R. Powell, 1973.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish and Flemish artists introduced European painting styles and subject matter, particularly Catholic saints and imagery, to the Americas. As this style blended with indigenous styles and motifs, a new style known as Spanish colonial art emerged. This Mexican colonial painting by an unknown artist of Saint Michael: The Archangel, currently on display in our Shaping America exhibition, dates from the 1700s when the American southwest was part of Mexico.
In Catholic representations, archangels can be either male or female. Spanish works often show Michael in a plumed helmet, knee-high boots, and armor, often holding the palm of victory, as in this piece. The Latin inscription, Quis ut deus, or “Who like God,” on the scroll running up the cross identifies the figure as Michael. The moon and the sun on the pectorals of the armor occur only in Spanish Colonial images of Michael and indicate the blending of European and native traditions.