Fred R. Kline Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico





copyright 1996, 1998, 2006, 2010 Fred R. Kline



This record documents the discovery in 1995 and the ongoing research of a unique New World Marian sculpture of unprecedented transitional importance: an interpretive Aztec-made Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, circa 1521-1540s, Mexico (New Spain); now called "La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo"[VNM].

The stone sculpture has been judged by leading scholars to be virtually unique in its overlay of symbols representing ancient Mesoamerican-Aztec gods here integrated into a Christian devotional sculpture of the Virgin Mary. These qualities suggest that VNM might be studied as a type of Indo-Christian Rosetta Stone that could offer insight into the transformation of religious consciousness in the New World.

In all probability, VNM can be considered a first Virgin Mary of the Americas, as well as a first New World Indian Madonna. This evidence warrants consideration of VNM in relationship to the 16th century origins of the cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico, a subject of wide research traditionally based on an apparitional legend, a painted textile image of problematic origin, and sparse (but expanding) 16th century documentation.

VNM symbolizes within religious history the first new deity of the New World; the first Native American baptized into (a transformed) Christianity. Within art history, VNM represents a singular and ephemeral Indo-Christian genre--the first art genre of the New World. The implications of this discovery suggest fresh insight into many areas of New World studies.



Mexico(The Viceroyalty of New Spain), circa 1521-40s

Unknown Aztec artisan ( in a style called Indochristian or, increasingly, Tequitqui )

Immaculate Conception (La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo)

Cantera stone

14 ¾ inches high x 11 inches wide x 4 ½ inches deep(37.5 x 28 x 11.5 cm.)

Condition: nimbus fractured in three places and repaired long ago, no losses; old minor losses at back of head and base.



Collection of a Private Estate, New Mexico from 18th-19th century to 1995. Family history traces to Mexico and possibly Spain before New Mexico. (unidentified)

Fred and Jann Kline Collection, Santa Fe, NM, from December 1995 (here first attributed by Fred R. Kline)

Private Collection, 2000


Discovery, Authentication and Expertise

Discovery, December 1995: Purchased (as unidentified Virgin) from a New Mexico estate by art historian Fred R. Kline, who first attributed and began interpretation of VNM, December 1995-March 1996.

Authentication and Expertise, April 1996: Constantino Reyes-Valerio, Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia, Mexico City. Reyes-Valerio was, until his tragic death in December 2006 in Mexico City, the leading scholar of 16th century Indo-Christian sculpture in Mexico and author of the foundation work on the subject: Arte Indocristiano, Escultura del Siglo XVI en Mexico,1978, Mexico City. (written expertise on request)

Consulting Scholars

Dr. M. Susan Barger, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque,NM (Material Science: relating to fine art)

Dr. Marcus Burke, The Hispanic Society of America, New York,NY (Spanish Colonial Art History)

Dr. Louise M. Burkhart, University of Albany/State University of New York, Albany,NY (New World Anthropology/Nahua-Aztec Christianity)

Dr. Linda Hall, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque,NM (Latin American History/Marian Studies)

Dr. Jon Lunsford, Director of Meadows Museum, Dallas, Texas (Spanish Art History, Spanish Colonial Art History)

Dr. Mary Miller, Yale University, New Haven, CT (Mesoamerican Art History/Iconographic studies in the art of ancient Mexico)

Dr. Marion Oettinger, Jr; Senior Curator of San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas (Spanish and Mexican Folk Art)

Dr. Constantino Reyes-Valerio, INAH, Mexico, DF ( 16th c. Mexican Colonial
Indo-Christian Sculpture)

Dr. Khristaan D. Villela, Director of Thaw Art History Center, College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM (Mesoamerican Art History)

Exhibitions (on loan 1996-97-98)

Fred R. Kline Gallery, Santa Fe. "La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo". May-August 1996.

Davenport Museum of Art, Davenport, IA: "The Baroque Vision from Europe to New Spain", Sept. 29, 1996 to Feb. 16, 1997 (Notably, the only sculpture among the paintings in the exhibition).

Meadows Museum of Art, Dallas,TX: "La Virgencita", March 1, 1997 to May 31, 1997(A single object exhibition).

San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio,TX: "El Alma del Pueblo: Folk Art of Spain
and the Americas", Oct. 17, 1997 to Jan. 1998. Note: LVNM did not travel with the exhibition.


Hollis Walker. "Sculpture of Virgin might be rare discovery"(VNM illustrated). The Santa Fe New Mexican, April 7, 1996.

M. Susan Barger and Weiliang Gong. "La Virgencita: Technical Study of an Indo-Christian Statue" (VNM illustrated). Material Issues in Art and Archeology V. Pittsburgh, 1997.

Texas Catholic newspaper, April 1997 (VNM illustrated in review of Meadows Museum exhibition).

D. J. Williams. Southwest Airlines SPIRIT magazine, October 1997 (VNM featured and illustrated in review of San Antonio Museum of Art exhibition).

Kristin Bucher. SOUTHWEST ART magazine October 1997 (VNM featured and illustrated in review of SAMA exhibition).

Avis Berman. ART & ANTIQUES magazine December 1997 (VNM featured and illustrated in review of SAMA exhibition).

VISTA magazine, an Hispanic national Sunday newspaper supplement. "Devotion To Our Lady of Guadalupe", December 1997 (VNM featured and illustrated).

Marion Wheeler. Her Face: Images of the Virgin Mary in Art. ( VNM Illustrated , p.10.). FirstGlance Books, Cobb, California, 1998.

Harrison Fletcher. "Virgin Rebirth" & "Like a Virgin", New Times newspaper (VNM featured and illustrated in lead story: Denver, Dallas, Los Angeles, and St. Louis editions) December 10-30, 1998.

Fred R. Kline. "Annotated Record: La Virgencita del Nuevo Mundo", from 1998.

Rachel Maurer. "Cult of the Virgin Mary" ( VNM Illustrated p. 31; regarding UNM History Professor Linda Hall's forthcoming new book)
Quantum: Research, Scholarship, & Creative Works at the University of New Mexico. Albuquerque. Fall 1999.

Louise M. Burkhart. Before Guadalupe: The Virgin Mary in Early Colonial Nahuatl Literature. IMS Monograph 13, Institute for Mesoamerican Studies, Albany. 2001 (featured and illustrated plate 2.]

Linda Hall. Mary, Mother and Warrior . University of Texas Press, Austin. 2004 (featured & illustrated p.113]


Dr. Khristaan D. Villela (College of Santa Fe). "Mexican Art and Architecture in the Sixteenth Century: European Mannerism and Indochristian Tequitqui" (VNM featured in slide presentation). Southwest Seminars, Santa Fe, July 29, 2000.

Additional Research regarding VNM

1. The Aztec deities merged into VNM suggest the great god Quetzalcoatl (represented by feathers overlaid on the area of the dress)and the significant earth/corn goddess Chicomecoatl (who may merge collectively with the generic mother goddess Tonantzin in the two floral disks, four phallic-like tassels, and two flint blades). The Virgin's face, echoing the naturalistic style of Teotihuacan masks and figurines, depicts a young Indian girl who appears to be speaking (a Mesoamerican sign of authority). It should be noted that nowhere in the historic iconography of Christian art is the Virgin Mary depicted as speaking.

2. VNM is modeled on a Spanish Virgin of the Immaculate Conception, circa late 15th-early 16th century, and is likely based on a print or painted miniature, but possibly from direct observation of a sculptural Virgin. The Aztec maker was probably directed by a missionary, or conceivably by a conquistador (Cortes? Sandoval?), for placement in a niche in a private or an open-air chapel. The Aztec artisan was allowed to interpret the Virgin's imagery through the bias of his still fresh religious tradition. During the later 16th century, however, images like VNM which bore "pagan" influences were ordered to be destroyed or altered by the Spanish Inquisition. VNM stands as the unique survivor of that purge. Evidence that VNM was once enhanced with a decorative inlay on the apocalyptic symbols of the crescent moon, solar rays of the nimbus, and the crown appears as now empty seed-pearl size concavities (Aztec calendrical numerology may yet offer an interpretation of the number-suggestive details of VNM).

3. In VNM's pose of the Immaculate Conception, the Virgin was embraced by the Old World Spanish and venerated by the conquistadores as La Virgen de los Remedios (remedies). A devotional sculpture of the Remedios Virgin is known to have been brought to Mexico by the conquistadores in 1519. The earliest recorded Remedios Virgin made in Mexico is Nuestra Senora de la Salud de Patzcuaro, commissioned by Bishop Quiroga in 1540 for the Patzcuaro Basilica, Michoacan. Still extant, periodically redressed, and venerated in the Basilica, all possible Indo-Christian qualities of this traditionally called "Indian Madonna" (originally made from cornstalk paste) have been erased. The Patzcuaro Virgin retains an overall design, which is probably traditional, that closely resembles VNM. The most notable stylistic affinity to VNM found in Mexico today is Nuestra Senora de San Juan de los Lagos, a Remedios Virgin whose popularity is second only to La Virgen de Guadalupe.

4. Research conducted on VNM by Material scientists at the University of New Mexico (using scanning electron microscopy, transmission electron microscopy, and electron microprobe analysis) and later published (see Publications) found conclusively that the sculpture's cantera stone medium came from Los Humeros volcanic field, which is consistent with historic Mexican localities of Indo-Christian stonework. The finding of remnants of a paint ground is an indication supporting the probability that the statue was once polychromed. Nothing was found to contradict the circa dates of 1521-1540.



Bibliography: Selected Sources

1. Germain Bazin. The History of World Sculpture. Greenwich, CT, 1968.

2. Louise M. Burkhart. The Slippery Earth: Nahua-Christian Moral Dialogue in Sixteenth Century Mexico. Tucson,1989.

3. Bernal Diaz de Castillo. The Discovery and Conquest of Mexico. New York, 1956.

4. Serge Gruzinski. Painting the Conquest: The Mexican Indians a
nd the European Conquest. Paris, 1992.

5. George Kubler. Mexican Architecture of the Sixteenth Century. New Haven, CT, 1948.

6. -----------------------. The Art and Architecture of Ancient America. New Haven, 1962.

7. Jacques Lafaye. Quetzalcoatl and Guadalupe: The Formation of Mexican National Consciousness,1531-1813. Chicago, 1976.

8. Metropolitan Museum of Art. Mexico: Splendors of Thirty Centuries. essays by Octavio Paz, Marcus Burke, Johanna Hecht, Donna Pierce, and others. New York, 1990.

9. Mary Miller and Karl Taube. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya. New York and London, 1993.

10. National Gallery of Art. Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration. with essays by Michael D. Coe and others. Washington,DC,1991.

11. Lee A. Parsons. Pre-Columbian Art: The Morton D. May and The Saint Louis Art Museum Collections. New York, 1980.

12. Esther Pasztory. Aztec Art. New York, 1983.

13. Jeanette Favrot Peterson. "The Virgin of Guadalupe: Symbol of Conquest or Liberation". Art Journal, 1992.

14. Stafford Poole. Our Lady of Guadalupe. Tucson, 1995.

15. William H. Prescott. The Conquest of Mexico. Boston, 1843.

16. Constantino Reyes-Valerio. Arte Indocristiano: Escultura del Siglo XVI en Mexico. Mexico City, 1978.

17. B. de Sahagun. General History of the Things of New Spain. Santa Fe, 1950-75.

18. Hugh Thomas. Conquest. New York, 1993.

19. Manuel Toussaint. Colonial Art in Mexico. Austin, 1967.

20. Pamela B. Vandiver, James R. Druzik, et al, Editors. Material Issues in Art and Archeology V (including Barger and Gong, "La Virgencita: Technical Study of an Indo-Christian Statue"). Pittsburgh, 1997.

21. Elizabeth Wilder Weismann. Mexico in Sculpture. Cambridge, MA, 1950.


FRK / March 1996 with revisions t998, 2006, 2010


Sold to a distinguished private collection


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