Product #1218

Acrylic and goldleaf by Cristóbal Torres Iglesias, O.P.

From the private collection of Richard C. Colton, Jr.

New Orleans, Louisiana



In the Martin de Porres piece I tried to explore the idea of hagiography, both through image and through narrative. I had discovered this remarkably simple and very real looking portrait of Martin purportedly painted not long after his death that is now hanging in a Dominican women's monastery in Perú. In it Martin looks older than he is usually depicted, with a receding hairline, his face gaunt and serene, his posture dignified, and his clothing rather plain. It struck me that this was a real human being with extensive experience of life in all of its complexity, beauty, and injustice, and that he must have had a considerable amount of wisdom, compassion, and wit.

It seemed to me that this contrasted greatly with our traditional hagiographical images of Martin, whether they depicted him looking puerile, holding a broom, and with mice at his feet; or perhaps clad in an elaborately gilded habit as in traditional Peruvian art. So I decided to experiment with the process of creating hagiography; to explore how the memory of an ordinary person who strove to live the Gospel is transfigured by the People of God, both visually through images or in the stories we tell about them. It struck me that hagiography is really more about the spiritual needs of a local Christian community than it is about the person it references.  So I painted Martin, inspired by the portrait hanging in the Peruvian monastery; but I then added layers of gilding and visual hagiography in homage to the Cuzco school of religious art, as a way of tracing the centuries-long process of hagiographically re-imagining a historical person.

Since in addition to sacred art, narrative text is such a vital part of this process, I decided to incorporate a written hagiography into the piece as well. As with the portrait, I referenced a rather mundane, modern-day biography of Martin from Wikipedia and altered the text's modern grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and syntax to bring it closer to 17th century Spanish. I then exaggerated the style of the narrative, making it more flowery and overwrought. The result is a piece of visual and narrative text that includes the historical person who is its reference point, plus generations of hagiographical overlay. The idea is to ensure that both Martins- the real human being who lived an intense relationship with God and with the people of his day, and the one we have made him into- are both present and visible. And in the process, yet another Martin emerges...

Friar Martin de Porras y Velázquez (in many sources it's actually spelled "Porras"), son of the nobleman and Knight of Calatrava Sir Ivan de Porras native of Burgos, and of the most pious Ana Velázquez, freed woman of color from Panama, was baptized on the 9th of December of 1579 in the Church of St. Sebastian in the city of Lima in the Viceroyalty of Peru. In 1594 and by invitation of Friar Iván de Lorenzana and by the grace of God and of His Most Holy Mother, in said city he entered the Order of Preachers of St. Dominic de Guzmán as a simple donado. Having much medicinal knowledge and distinguished in piety and virtue, Martin cured the poorest and most needy of the ailing when, because of his great pity the poor and the afflicted of all Lima had recourse to him, in this manner benefiting from the holy charity, knowledge and skill of so humble and pious a friar. It is known through the testimony of his brothers and of many other people that the helpless did await him at the en-" (at this point the narrative is intentionally cut off, as if this were a book and one had to turn the page to continue reading.)

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