Peruvian, Cuzco School

c. 1730/60

An Allegory of
Saint Rose of Lima


Oil on canvas

64 x 50 ½ inches
(162.5 x 128.5 cm)


Private Collection, Argentina; their sale, Guerrico & Williams Auction House, Buenos Aires, Argentina, before 1974; there purchased by:

Maria Eloisa Berisso, Buenos Aires (before 1974 - 2014); when sold to:

Private Collection, Buenos Aires (2014 – 2018)


The present work is an allegorical painting depicting Saint Rose of Lima (1586 – 1617), the first saint born in the Americas.  Its composition derives from an engraving that first appeared in Luis Antonio de Oviedo Herrera y Rueda’s Vida de la esclarecida virgen Santa Rosa de Santa María of 1717. In the print, drawn by Matías de Irala and engraved by Clemente Puche, the author appears at right, the manuscript of his poem on his lap, his quill raised in his right hand as he contemplates a vision of the saint. In the present painting the figure of the Spanish poet is replaced with that of an Inca nobleman, thus associating the saint with Peruvian history prior to the Spanish conquest. At the left kneels an allegorical figure of America – naked in the original print, but clothed in the present painting --a change likely requested by the patron of the canvas for reasons of modesty and decorum as the painting was probably intended for an ecclesiastic setting. The inscription on the banderole at the bottom of the print describes the saint’s role as “Patroness of Peru,” while the cartouche above it depicts the coat-of-arms of the city of Lima, with three royal crowns and the Star of Bethlehem. 

The style of the work corresponds to the Cuzco workshops of the mid- eighteenth century, a time of great artist expression in the regional schools of painting. This is suggested by the idealized beauty of the saint, the conventional features of the figures, and the somewhat naturalistic appearance of the landscape. The inclusion of the allegorical figure representing the Inca relates this work to what John Rowe has called the “Inca national movement of the 18th Century.” This movement was promoted by indigenous elites and the Creole upper classes seeking to exalt their place of origin by evoking the ancient Inca monarchy, conferring a unique personality to the “Kingdom of Peru” and placing it on an equal footing with other, more established kingdoms of the larger Spanish realm. These elements give the painting an extraordinary iconographic value, for this type of imagery would be banned, and almost all examples destroyed, after the defeat of Túpac Amaru II and his failed rebellion of 1781.

The composition is essentially divided into two parts: a higher, or celestial, level, and a lower, or earthly, one. The saint occupies the upper half and is seen in half-length, emerging from a large rose, with its stem arising from the landscape. She wears the black and white habit of the Tertiary Dominican Order and is seen with her typical attributes: the anchor with the profile of the city in her right hand and an image of the Christ Child surrounded by roses above her left. The former symbolizes the hope of Lima and the New World; the second alludes to the mystical apparitions of the Infant Jesus, whom the saint affectionately called “el doctorcito,” the little doctor. He appears in a glory, surrounded by rays of light, seraphim, and two flying angels amidst the clouds --both holding flowers in their hands: one with lilies, the other roses.       

In the lower part of the composition, placed in the earthly realm, there are two kneeling figures. They appear in front of an open landscape, paying homage to Rose’s American birth. The figure on the left is an allegorical figure familiar from representations of America and the West Indies -- a woman with long hair, sporting a multi-colored feather headdress, a bow, and arrow-filled quiver.  With her left hand she holds onto the stem of the rose sprouting from the ground, referencing Rose of Lima’s American birth; from the lower part of the stem a sprout appears with a white bud. On the other side the figure of an Inca alludes to Peru. Not only is he kneeling in an attitude of veneration of the saint, but he also raises his hands with his palms facing outwards in a gesture of reverence before the vision. The Inca is dressed in a blue uncu, or tunic, of cumbi weave decorated with white cantutas, the sacred flower of the Incas.  Across his waist is a belt embroidered with tocapus, the square star patterns beloved in Inca culture.  Over the uncu he wears a mantle, or yacolla, in pink, which falls over his left shoulder and partially covers his arm on that side. He wears a kind of rich ornamental collar about his neck, made of red, white and yellow feathers with two golden epaulets depicting puma heads.  His wrists are bound with wide golden bangles.  The costume recalls that of the Inca Emperor (the Sapa Inca) in the headdress, which is formed by two elements: the llautu and the mascapaicha.  The former is a braid of colored threads that is turned many times around the head; it is crowned by three flowers – a red cantuta flanked by two white ones.  From the llautu, the mascapaicha, the Royal Crown, falls over the forehead, a red tassel that represented the supreme power of the Inca and was thus the equivalent of an imperial European crown. Between the two figures, the top of a cartouche appears. The background is a vast landscape with a low skyline and a chain of mountains that is visible at a distance, certainly alluding to the Andes.

The above entry is an edited translation of one written in Spanish by Luis Eduardo Wuffarden, a copy of which is available on request.