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Curator Jana Gottshalk inspects the mid-18th century painting Our Lady of the Light on Tuesday at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. The painting, which originally came to Santa Fe in 1761, was in possession of the Sisters of Loretto and left the city decades ago. Now the sisters have donated it to the museum. A public reception to acknowledge the gifting is scheduled for September 20 at 5 p.m.
A close up of the mid-18th century oil painting Our Lady of the Light shows an angel offering up a bowl to the Virgin Mary.

General Assignment Reporter
Curator Jana Gottshalk inspects the mid-18th century painting Our Lady of the Light on Tuesday at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art. The painting, which originally came to Santa Fe in 1761, was in possession of the Sisters of Loretto and left the city decades ago. Now the sisters have donated it to the museum. A public reception to acknowledge the gifting is scheduled for September 20 at 5 p.m.
She stands there, a study in spiritual power and dignity, with one hand pulling a soul from the mouth of hell and the other confidently cradling the baby Jesus.
She is Our Lady of the Light, a luminescent painting of the Virgin Mary by 18th century Mexican artist Miguel Mateo Maldonado y Cabrera (informally known as Miguel Cabrera), and she’s come home to Santa Fe.
Then again, Santa Fe was her home for centuries, though she traveled up to Colorado and elsewhere for a bit before making her way back here with the help of the Sisters of Loretto, whose members recently donated the oil-on-canvas work to the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts for permanent display.
Noting the Sisters of Loretto, whose members first arrived in Santa Fe in 1852, number only about 100 today, Sister Eleanor Craig said as that religious order’s membership continues to wane, “this gift is part of our disposition of our treasures so that our legacy will continue in the places where we worked.”
Craig, as well as other art experts and historians, will speak about the painting’s history during a public reception honoring the gift of the painting on Sept. 20 at the museum.
The painting first arrived in Santa Fe in 1761 as then-New Mexico Gov. Francisco Antonio Marín del Valle commissioned it to hang in a military chapel, known as La Castrense, located on the south side of the Santa Fe Plaza. The painting stayed there until the late 1850s, by which time the chapel had fallen into disrepair and was destroyed.
New Mexico Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy then gave the painting to the Sisters of Loretto in Santa Fe. Some of the Sisters of Loretto — founded in 1812 in Kentucky — had followed Lamy to the New Mexico Territory in 1852 to open academies and convents.
But once the sisters took hold of the painting, everybody “kind of forgot” what happened to it, said Donna Pierce, a retired art historian and Spanish colonial art expert who once served as curator for the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts.
A close up of the mid-18th century oil painting Our Lady of the Light shows an angel offering up a bowl to the Virgin Mary.
Craig said the Sisters hung the work in the Our Lady of Light Academy and Chapel, known as Loretto Chapel. She added the painting was moved from room to room — from the main dining room to a parlor for visitors — over time.
When the order sold that building in 1968, the painting was transferred to the Loretto Denver Center, where it hung for decades before being loaned out to a number of Santa Fe museums for temporary display.
There are several reasons the sisters did not want the painting to go to the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse — the order’s headquarters — in Kentucky, Craig said. She said there were concerns the painting, long held in a dry climate, would not acclimate well to a more humid climate, which “could be very destructive to the painting.”
And, she said, the painting “belongs to the culture of the Southwest. It should stay there.”
She said her order wanted to find a permanent home for the work that is “public in nature, has a permanent collection and could assure us it would be safe and preserved over a long time.”
The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art is a natural fit because the work there is dedicated to the Spanish Colonial period, Craig said. And the painting was already hanging there on a temporary loan basis before the sisters formally turned it over to the museum this past spring, she said.
“It’s an impressive piece,” said Jana Gottshalk, curator of collections at the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, as she viewed it in the museum Tuesday. She said historically the work is important in that a number of New Mexico’s santeros used it as inspiration for their own work during the years it hung in the now-gone chapel on the Plaza.
Pierce, who will speak about the painting during Tuesday’s event, echoed that thought, saying the work is historically relevant because it was a prototype “for the burgeoning New Mexican artistic movement that was beginning in the 1760s and exploded from the 1780s until when the Americans came in 1840s.”
Craig said as many as 40 members of the Sisters of Loretto plan to be on hand for the event “to give the painting away” and not only remember what they have done in New Mexico but “be remembered.”
Noting the painting is full of angels, some of whom hold a bowl of hearts, Craig said the painting will serve as a reminder of “the Sisters of Loretto who have indeed blessed our hearts here in New Mexico.”
What: A public reception to acknowledge the gifting of Our Lady of the Light from the Sisters of Loretto the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art will include talks by Loretto Community Historian Eleanor Craig and art historian and curator Donna Pierce.
When: 5 p.m. Sept. 20
Where: Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, 750 Camino Lejo.
Admission:  The event is free for museum members; otherwise regular museum admission for nonmembers is $12, or $5 for seniors, veterans and youth under 12.
For more information about the event, email museum@spanishcolonial.org
General Assignment Reporter
Robert Nott has covered education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican. He is assigned to The New Mexican’s city desk where he covers a general assignment beat.
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