Latin America, Mexico, ca. 19th century CE. A wonderful pair of matched, hand-carved wooden figures, each depicting a standing praying figure who has his/her lower body engulfed in flames. One figure is male with a handsome beard and a balding head, and the other is a woman with a delicate face and long brown locks of hair. Nude save for their conflagrant clothing, each figure boasts a pair of stunningly naturalistic glass eyes, hand-painted with hues of white, topaz, and black, and set inside the faces before being adhered to the rest of the head. The figures are painted in naturalistic tones of pale beige and dark brown, with hues of red, orange, and yellow comprising the surrounding serpentine flames. A gorgeous set of finely-crafted religious statues! Size of largest (female): 3.5" W x 9.625" H (8.9 cm x 24.4 cm).
These carvings represent two figures from “Las Cruz de Animas” or the Cross of Souls. The pair of figures are known as “las animas solas” (or lonesome departed ancestral souls) pleading for salvation while awaiting judgment in the flames of purgatory. These souls are a poignant example of religious art representing a subject that was a popular cult of devotion throughout Mexico during the 19th century.
Santos played an important role in bringing the Catholic Church to the New World with the Spanish colonists. These religious figures were hand-carved and often furnished with crowns, jewels, and other accessories, usually funded by religious devotees, and were used as icons to explain the major figures - Mary, Christ, and the saints - to new, indigenous converts. Likewise, they served as a connection to the Old World for Spanish colonists far from home. They became a folk-art tradition in the Spanish New World, from modern day Guatemala to as far north as New Mexico and Colorado. Many of them were lovingly cared for over the years, with repairs and paint added as they aged, and played an active part for a long time in the religious life of their communities.
Provenance: ex-private Cook collection, Arizona, USA
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Left arm of female figure reattached with some overpainting along break line. Both figures display surface wear and abrasions commensurate with age, small chips and light fading to pigmentation along noses, arms, flames, and bodies of both figures, with minor nicks to base, otherwise excellent. Light earthen deposits throughout.