Buffalo Hide Painting of Saint Anthony of Padua

Grade Range: K-12
Resource Type(s): Primary Source, Artifacts
Date Posted: 9/18/2009

The man in this painting, holding an apparition of the baby Jesus, appears to be a saint. Known as Saint Anthony of Padua, the "Hammer of Heretics," he was celebrated for his many miracles and his ability to communicate with rich and poor alike. Missionary priests who proselytized among Indians in what is now New Mexico frequently instructed local craftsman to render his likeness. It had taken decades for Pueblo tribes to accept Christianity. The mission where this painting was created was miles from the Gulf of Mexico, where imported canvases would have been prohibitively expensive and in short supply. Missionary priests worked out a compromise with their Indian laborers, increasingly relying on their skill in rendering animal skins into a workable substitute for scarce European canvases.

This particular image is credited to a mystery artist known as "Franciscan B" for his recognizable style, rendered in vegetal paints on buffalo hide. According to Mrs. E. Boyd, former curator of the Museum of New Mexico, who examined this piece for possible transfer to the National Museum of History and Technology (now American History): "By the time the Franciscan missionaries were being withdrawn from New Mexico and replaced by Mexican secular clergy, the visiting bishops from Durango, Mexico, the seat of the diocese, repeatedly ordered the removal of sacred images painted on animal skins as not suitable." Following passage of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which transferred New Mexico to the United States, canvas was more readily available and buffalo herds were dwindling. By the close of 19th century, the buffalo was becoming the unofficial emblem of the United States, as prominent as the eagle in American symbolic imagery.

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