If you Google the name “Miguel Cabrera”, you’ll find that he’s a Venezuelan major league baseball player with an impressive batting record…but he’s not the subject of this article. The Miguel Cabrera you’re about to discover lived more than three centuries ago and was a well-known painter of his time and place.
Miguel Mateo Maldonado y Cabrera (that was his full name) was born in 1695 in San Miguel Tlalixtac, a small Oaxacan town in the then Viceroyalty of New Spain. At that time, Yucatán was the remote Captaincy General that spanned over the Península and part of what is today Tabasco, Guatemala, and Belice. All this, or course, way before México was its own country.
How good was he? Well, let’s say that in the honor roll of the best painters of his time he would be in the top three. That’s how popular and coveted he was and, in fact, still is. When one of his paintings is auctioned, bids go for thousands of euros.
Miguel Cabrera’s work, framed in baroque style (overloaded with iconographic elements), focused mostly on religious motifs. He specialized in images of the Virgin Mary but he also painted scenes of everyday life and portraits. And although his name may not ring a bell, you surely have seen his work: his portrait of Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz has been reproduced in books and illustrations, not to mention our country’s legal tender (it is currently on the award-winning $100-peso bill). His pieces can be found in churches (the cathedrals of México City and Puebla), national museums (Nacional de Arte, Nacional de Virreinato), and abroad (Museo de América in Madrid, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston), as well as in private collections around the world.
Miguel Cabrera was president of the first academy of painting in New Spain, and his popularity was such that he became the chamber painter of the archbishop of New Spain, a very rare honor. He also received numerous commissions from the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), one of the most important religious organizations of that time, and was the author of a famous text: “Maravilla Americana y Conjunto de Raras Maravillas,” a small book in which he analyzes – from an artistic point of view – the canvas of the Virgin of Guadalupe exhibited in México City’s basilica.
Fortunately, you won’t need to leave the state – or the country – to admire his work. You can see it here, in Yucatán. Just visit Tecoh, one of the communities that are part of the Convent Route. There you’ll find the parish of Our Lady of the Assumption. Its main altarpiece has four paintings by Don Miguel Cabrera, which depict the three archangels (Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael) and Saint John the Baptist. The paintings were found in 1985 during restoration efforts by the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), and, while how they got there is still a mystery, there is nothing strange about his works being scattered all along the territory of colonial México. Miguel Cabrera was, like his namesake baseball player, a heavy-hitting superstar.
Parroquia de Nuestra Señora de La Asunción, Calle 28 x 27 y 29, Centro, Tecoh
Tecoh is located 34 km south of Mérida, in the Convent Route
Mon. – Sun. 7 am – 12 pm and 3:30 – 7 pm
By Alberto Chuc
I like to travel through books and in the real world, activities that I combine whenever I can.
Photography by Alberto Chuc for use in Yucatán Today.
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