Cristóbal de Villalpando (1649-1714) was an outstanding painter of the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Few data are known about the artist prior to his professional career, but historians agree that his birthplace could have been in Mexico City.
His works, on the contrary, were well known. His first work dates from 1675 and was carried out in a church in Puebla, although his most important role was carried out with various paintings for the cathedral in Mexico.
Villalpando’s role was vital in the artistic renewal carried out by the Spanish in Mexico. The objective was to transform the icons or symbols that were used with the intention of adapting them to the political, social and cultural traditions of the new colonizers.
The most notable characteristics of the work done by Villalpando had to do with the use of glitter or golden ornaments. The style of the brush strokes did not follow a fixed pattern.
One of his most relevant works was The Triumph of the Church, a work that stood out for its large dimensions.
Information on the life of Cristóbal de Villalpando is almost non-existent. The exact date he was born is not known, as his birth or baptism certificate has never been found. There is also no data on his training as a professional.
His entire working life was carried out in New Spain, between Puebla and Mexico City. He was a painter who worked especially for commissions made by the Spanish. The objective they had was to revalue local art, but giving it characteristics of European culture.
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries he was one of the most important and sought-after artists. It was a fundamental piece in the evolution of the baroque movement in that area of the American continent.
During its growth as a painter, Mexico lived a stage in which religion had a great influence on all aspects of society. This was transferred to the different artistic disciplines of the country and a lot was invested in promoting the figure of the Catholic Church.
At some point its influence mutated towards the Churrigueresque style. In this way, Villalpando turned his back on some artistic ideas from Europe to focus on more local aspects.
For more than ten years he served as an art inspector for the authorities of the Spanish Crown. Thanks to this position, he had a great influence, especially for the new generation of painters in New Spain.
Among the things that were assumed in Villalpando’s life is that he never left Mexico.
Cristóbal de Villalpando’s parents were Juan de Villalpando and Ana de los Reyes. This is information that is known thanks to a document where the painter gives information about his parents.
In the same text, found in the cathedral of Mexico, Villalpando claimed to be a native of the place and that is why historians have affirmed that his nationality is Mexican. But this is a piece of information that could not be confirmed in any other way.
In addition, Villalpando married María de Mendoza in Puebla and the couple had up to four children in subsequent years.
Among the things that are assumed about Villalpando’s life were the details about his artistic inclinations and who his teachers were in his training stage as a painter.
In this sense, historians focused on analyzing Villalpando’s works to determine which elements were similar to those of other artists from earlier times. These studies made it possible to establish that Villalpando used to coincide in many aspects with the also painter Baltasar de Echave Rioja.
Diego de Mendoza has also been named as one of Villalpando’s teachers. Above all because of the family bond that both artists created when Villalpando married one of his daughters.
Characteristics of his painting
One of the most characteristic elements of Villalpando’s artistic work is that his works had a very clear focus on religious themes. He always worked for commissions and his paintings adorned very emblematic churches of New Spain.
The archangels were very present figures in Villalpando’s works. He came to paint San Miguel, San Ignacio, San Joaquín or Francisco Javier.
Between 1690 and 1710 the most important years of his career were lived. But his first work was carried out in 1675 in the San Martín Caballero monastery, today known as the Huaquechula convent.
He highlighted the importance he gave to the presence and representation of light on his canvases. Although it was a characteristic that emerged when he began to move away from the baroque ideas of some Spaniards who leaned towards more somber environments.
The scenes that Villalpando portrayed in his works had a large number of colors.
Several of his works stood out for their large size. Moses and the bronze serpent and the transfiguration of Jesus is a canvas that is almost 30 feet high. In this painting the characters were depicted in life size.
The biblical characters he portrayed used to convey movement and physically always had similar characteristics.
The altarpiece of the monastery of San Martín Caballero is one of his most important works because it is the first of his career as a painter. In this work Villalpando was the author of 17 of the 18 paintings he has. On the canvases some saints and the Virgin Mary are represented.
This work by Villalpando has suffered a lot over the years. First Villalpando was in charge of transferring the images of the altarpiece to canvas, since previously the work had been made on boards.
During the nineteenth century the altarpiece was restored for the first time and the use of colors was emphasized. Especially so that the work could gain in luminosity. The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) was in charge of another restoration in 2012 and after the 2017 earthquake in Mexico they continue to work for the recovery of the convent.
Over the years Villalpando was in charge of the renovation and creation of more altarpieces. Until in the 80s his most important work arrived with Juan Correa: decorating the cathedral in Mexico.
In this enclosure some of his works were The Virgin of the Apocalypse, The Apotheosis of San Miguel or The militant church.
Historians have determined that Vida de San Ignacio was the last work of Cristóbal de Villalpando. There the painter made more than 22 canvases (but it has not been determined if there are more) in which he represented all the most important aspects of the saint’s life. It was a commission made by the novitiate of Tepotzotlán.
Currently, Cristóbal de Villalpando’s works are scattered among religious institutions and in different museums. The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico features much of his work, as does the museum housed in the old temple of the Virgin of Guadalupe.
A section was created that was named in honor of Villalpando in the museum of the Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe, in Tepeyac. In this area of the museum you have been able to observe some of the painter’s works and appreciate the evolution of his work.
In Tepeyac, in addition, there is one of the most important or world-known paintings of Villalpando: the painting The sweet name of Maria. This work has been exhibited in the most important museums in the world, such as El Prado, in Spain; Louvre, in France; and the New York Metropolitan, in the United States.
Today, although he is still surrounded by unknowns, Cristóbal de Villalpando’s works are highly appreciated.
Thanks to works such as Moses and the Bronze Serpent and the Transfiguration of Jesus, Villalpando managed to have a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 2017.
This exhibition, named Cristóbal de Villalpando: Mexican Baroque Painter, was a milestone because that painting by Moisés had never left Puebla.
The sweet name of Mary is owned by the Basilica of Guadalupe, but it has been one of her most exhibited works around the world. It has managed to be part of exhibitions in the most important museums in Europe such as El Prado or the Louvre.
Works such as The Adoration of the Magi are part of the heritage of Fordham University in New York. But the normal thing is to have to visit different churches in Mexico to witness Villalpando’s work.
For a long time Cristóbal de Villalpando was attributed the authorship of the painting El Parián. This work has been the subject of multiple studies and discussions until at the end of the 20th century it was concluded that the painter was not the author.
The statement came from the Aesthetic Research Institute, department of the UNAM, where they assured that the painting dates from the second part of the 18th century, when Villalpando had already died.
Bargellini, C. (1999). Cristóbal de Villalpando at the cathedral of Puebla .
Leyva-Gutierrez, N., Brown, J., Sullivan, E. and Russo, A. (2012). Painting Power: Images of Ecclesiastical Authority in Seventeenth-Century New Spain .
Maza, F. (1964). The painter Cristóbal de Villalpando . Mexico: Inst. Nal. of Anthropology and History.
Villalpando, C. and Gutiérrez Haces, J. (1997). Cristóbal de Villalpando . Mexico .: Institute of Aesthetic Research.
Villalpando, C., Fernández de Calderón, C., Monroy Valentino, C., Ángeles Jiménez, P. and Brown, J. (nd). Cristóbal de Villalpando, Mexican Baroque painter .