Cristo de Sacromonte ex-voto

Ex-voto, 1877, paint on tin, 10 x 14 inches (New Mexico State University Art Museum)

Additional resources

The ex-voto collection at the New Mexico State University Art Museum.

Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-century Retablo Tradition (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2001).

Gloria Fraser Giffords, Mexican Folk Retablos (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1992).

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Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:03] We are looking at a fabulous painting from the New Mexico State University Art Museum. It’s a 19th-century painting that speaks to art that was made to express powerful private concerns.

Dr. Emmanuel Ortega: [0:17] These types of paintings are known as ex-votos, and these are images that are created for communal purposes. For instance, let’s say something happened to you and you want to offer a votive to a saint or to a specific effigy for having helping you overcome that accident or for that specific bad time in your life. An ex-voto was created to say thank you.

[0:44] This attests to the resilience of religious paintings in places like Mexico, where many times people from smaller communities were not allowed to create religious paintings.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:56] There are thousands of ex-votos that still survive from the 19th century. Paintings like this one, made for private reasons, are then put on display in more communal or public spaces.

Dr. Ortega: [1:09] The ex-voto is always separated into three different parts. We have the text on the bottom. We have the earthly realm in the middle ground, and then we also see the divine.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [1:19] One Don Tomás Olvera has asked an artist to create this ex-voto, as is explained in the text, because he had a near-death experience. He was fighting a bull in a bullfight. He became trapped underneath the bull. He was bloodied and likely was not going to survive.

[1:38] When his wife prayed to the Cristo de Sacromonte to intercede on her husband’s behalf to save his life, he emerged with few scratches from the incident. We see in the top two-thirds of the painting the supplicant kneeling alongside his wife as they are looking towards the miraculous Señor de Sacromonte.

Dr. Ortega: [2:02] El Señor de Sacromonte is an effigy that rests in its own sanctuary in today’s state of Mexico, in Amecameca. For some miraculous reason, he is present, perhaps in the actual living room of the supplicants.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:19] It looks like the inside of a room. We see they’re kneeling on the floor. The Señor de Sacromonte has appeared on maybe their table where they eat food. We see a window. The artist has paid such close attention to the faces of the figures who are kneeling.

[2:34] The artist has given us precise stitching on the shawl that’s draped over her head. Even the fringe at the bottom is so carefully delineated.

Dr. Ortega: [2:44] We have a laying down figure of El Cristo de Sacromonte, and this is a Cristo that was originally made out of cornstarch paste. This material was incredibly light, so it was perfect for the carrying of the effigy in different processions.

[3:03] We can still see his knees bent, which also makes allusion to the place where the Cristo de Sacromonte originally appeared to some of the first religious peoples in the 1500s, which is atop of a monte, atop of a mountain.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:19] Here he’s covered by this pink textile that has floral decorations on it and this beautiful lace collar.

[3:27] This was once attached to the wall on a sanctuary with the three nail holes at the top, but we can also see things like the scratch marks that indicate touching. We can see the signs of rust from things like water or other types of physical interaction with this type of painting.

Dr. Ortega: [3:43] Another important aspect about these images is the ways in which small communities are resourceful. These images are not made out of canvas. Instead, they’re made out of tin.

[3:54] By the 19th century, with the advent of roofing throughout Mexico, you have the accessibility to tin. It’s more common than other materials. As soon as the main goal of the painting is accomplished, which is to send that message to that sanctuary, it doesn’t matter what kind of material you use.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:15] That’s different than what’s happening in the Academy of San Carlos in Mexico City, where artists are going and they’re studying with teachers and have a very set curriculum. Here, we have art that’s being made with a very express function, and that is as an expression of thanks for something that happened to someone in their lives.

Dr. Ortega: [4:34] Because of their placement outside of the academy, people have not paid attention to these images in this way. Instead of us thinking about these images in comparison to academic painting, we always have to put them in their historical context, and in this case, in their communal context, in order to appreciate their beauty.

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Cite this page as: Dr. Emmanuel Ortega and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Cristo de Sacromonte ex-voto," in Smarthistory, November 21, 2022, accessed June 23, 2024,