Peruvian Retablos @ Peaceable Kingdom

The Peaceable Kingdom


Peruvian Retablos

The Peaceable Kingdom will have on view Peruvian retablos, hand-crafted and colorfully painted miniature sculptures by the Jimenez family from the Andean region of Ayacucho, Peru. For four generations, the members of the Jimenez, including Mabilon and Claudio, have skillfully fashioned people, animals and mythological figures using a mixture of plaster/gypsum powder and boiled potato. Their most important tool is a small piece of wood resembling a large toothpick.

The term retablo traditionally applies to a broad variety of religious images which are painted and sculpted over much of Latin America. The word is derived from the Latin retro tabula, which means behind the (altar) table, where devotional images were typically placed. In Mexico, New Mexico and Guatemala retablo (or strictly speaking, retablo santo) has taken the form of images of Christ, the virgin, or the saints, painted on tin or wood. Carved and painted wood sculptures of saints and religious figures set in shallow boxes are generally referred to as nichos in this area.

The Peruvian retablo is, in a sense, a blend of the two forms. Figures of individual saints may be carved or sculpted of a mix of plaster or gypsum and cooked potato and set in a shadow box. Frequently, retablos take the form of a three dimensional painting of a scene, consisting of many figures in very complex environments. The boxes serve as miniature houses or shrines, often with opening doors and a gable above the opening. Typically, both the doors and the sides of the box are covered with an ornate, polychrome floral decoration. The Peruvian retablos traditionally serve as household shrines, combining folk and Christian traditions. The art form has evolved to include the depiction of secular scenes of daily life in Peru, such as markets, shops, harvests, weddings and other ceremonies. In some cases, the subject matter may even be political, depicting the turmoil of the last few years.

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