12162 - Portraits of Crowned Nuns and Architecture of Convents as Visual Symbols of Power in Colonial Mexico

Women in Colonial Mexico, who since childhood had been trained to show the utmost respect for nuns, who had had frequent contact with them or at least had heard their voices singing in the upper choir loft, did not consider convents as anything other than a familiar element of the world they lived in.  In their Christian zeal they were keenly appreciative of the significance of the convent life that so many were eager to enter.  Between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries the number of convents steadily increased because they met a definite social need.  They were a total of 59.

There is a painting genre that consists in portraits of the so called “crowned nuns” (monjas coronadas) that provide a note of brilliant color.  The first impression is both pleasing and astonishing. The nuns are dressed in the habit of their order which is enlivened at that moment by a huge crown of flowers, decorated ceremonial candles, elaborate bouquets of flowers and images of the infant Jesus. The facial expression is nearly always solemn and even hidden in the profusion of the flowers of the headdress. Subsequently the “crown” would be removed and the nun’s hair shorn to prepare for the veil that she would wear for the rest of her life.  It is a momentary image of great splendor which has been preserved on canvas to record the instant when a woman voluntarily gave up the everyday world to devote herself in body and soul to the service of the Lord. 

The portraits of crowned nuns are remarkable for their good taste and the artists obviously took special pleasure in faithfully depicting the many ornamental details, whether embroidery and images, or flowers and jewels and other decorative items. Such portraits were unquestionably commissioned by the family out of a desire to remember the daughter, grandchild, niece, or sister as she had been on that day before she took her vows and disappeared forever behind the gray convent walls. To be able to hang such a portrait on the walls of the family living room must have been in that Catholic society a source of pride and deep satisfaction. These elegant and exquisite portraits of nuns and their corresponding monumental convents, are visual symbols of the overwhelming power and pageantry of the Catholic Church in Colonial Mexico. 

Palabras claves: Colonial, Art, Mexico, Nuns

Autores: Aguilar-Moreno, Manuel (California State College, Los Angeles, Ud States of America / USA)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575