Angel Musketeers: gift to Campion Hall

POST BY JMahoney

Andean Angels credit Cris Fajardo
Andean Angels credit Cris Fajardo

An increasingly important idea in modern Christian communication is that of religious inculturation, the challenge of making biblical topics and themes meaningful and appealing within differing human cultures. A good example is the different ways in which the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt is depicted in different cultures. Commonly in the West the family pictured as fleeing from persecution is fair-skinned, with Mary and her baby seated on a donkey being led along the road by Joseph. The Holy Family can be encountered in Egypt aboard a small wind-driven felucca sailing up the broad river Nile; or in a Chinese version, with Joseph punting his family  through the shallow rice fields in a sampan, all in native dress and with oriental features; or finally, the family is huddled together on the back of a large Philippine water buffalo as it lumbers through the marshes.

A fascinating collective instance of such cultural adaptationis to be found in the hybrid visual art of Christian Peru described in the following essay by Professor Peter Davidson, a Senior Research Fellow of Campion Hall, who has recently generously donated his collection of these works to the Hall. (Photos by Cris Fajardo)

Professor Davidson writes:

Arcabuceros: The Angels of the Andes

Andean Angels credit Cris FajardoCampion Hall has recently received my donation of a dozen Peruvian paintings in the style which is identified as “the School of Cuzco”, and which had its origins in the Jesuit culture of accommodation in the baroque period: Angeles Arcabuceros – Angel Musketeers, one of the most fascinating  iconographic hybrids produced anywhere in the baroque world. Brocade-clad warrior angels, plumed and winged, are armed with the great matchlock guns of the wars of the seventeenth century. The image of St Michael is possibly eighteenth century,  but all the others date from some point in the twentieth century. It seems extraordinary  that a visual tradition which began in the remote Andean missions and colleges of the Old Society of Jesus should still be alive today, but it is: the market for continuing production of the angels of the Andes has been constant and they are produced now by much the same techniques as were first used in the 1680s.    

Cultural accommodation

In the visual arts it is perhaps Peru (and those parts of ancient Peru which are now in Bolivia) which gives us the most compelling school of hybrid art in Iberian America. Here, in a sense, is Jesuit art of the Americas working at its highest capacity, an unforgettable visual manifestation of the whole programme of Jesuit cultural accommodation. Here we are dealing with a large repertory of sophisticated images, almost all of which carry multiple significations. What we have in Peru is the coming together of two cultivated peoples both of whom, Inka and Spaniard alike, were conquerors with a highly evolved culture. The cathedral of Cuzco is built on the foundations of the temple of the sun. The merging of the two traditions was manifested in widespread intermarriage. The Jesuit church in Cuzco preserves a stylistically-hybrid painting of a significant dynastic marriage: that of the great-nephew of St Ignatius Loyola to Doña Beatriz Clara Coya (sometimes called Beatriz Ñusta) the niece and heiress of the Inka Huayna Capac. Their daughter went on to marry the grandson of the Jesuit St Francis Borgia. This double marriage formed a very significant part of the way that the Jesuits presented themselves in Peru, an affirmation of familial ties between the Society of Jesus and the Inkas, which were reflected in the remarkable cultural bilinguality of the visual art of Christian Peru.  

Angels as musketeers

A superb manifestation of the Baroque of the high Andes comes in the figures of the Arcabuceros who attend the Virgin in the churches  of the native villages of the remote Jesuit stations. These figures represent an extraordinary imaginative fusion of the idea of the indigenous American deities of the start, merciful, handsome young warriors, with the European merciful warriors of heaven, the angels and archangels (See following page).  What  is so compelling  and  moving about these images (and they are being painted in Cuzco to this day) is that they present the heavenly warriors as the armies of the baroque centuries. The result is that Flemish engravings illustrative of musket drill are transformed in the Americas into the angel arquebusiers who attend the Virgin of the Andes. The plumes, which are an Inka signifier of holy and royal status, adorn European hats in this extraordinary work of fusion and interaction.

Arms at the ready!

The distinguished art historian, Teresa Gisbert, associates these Andean angel-paintings with confraternities of indigenous peoples fostered by the Jesuits under the patronage of St. Michael. This meeting of cultures in the Altiplano gives the names of the angels from the apocryphal Book of Enoch to the postures taken from the engravings of musket-drill published for the armies of those endless wars in Flanders which in fact consumed most of the silver ore riches of the mountains of Bolivian Potosi. Each posture of the musket drill comes to identify an angel. The Angel who levels his gun at the horizon is called ‘Aziel who is the Fear of God, Aziel Timor Dei.’ Sometimes the attribute of these angels is a translation  of their Hebrew name; more often they have taken the attribute of the merciful heavenly warriors of the Inka pantheon: Salamiel who is the peace of God, Aziel who is the fear of God, Aspiel whose gun is reversed as for a Prince's funeral, Aspiel the lightning of God, Laeiel the Forbearance of God represented surrounded by the feathered ornaments of an Inka dignitary.

Angel guardians

These fascinating paintings deserve even further study, particularly of the protective function which their replicas are believed to have in Peru to this day. As one Limeño dealer wrote to me, ‘this is not only a fine painting, but he will kill demons in the doorway of your house’. This is not my primary purpose in making this gift, but it is to me a great pleasure that a collection built up with affection over two decades will pass permanently into the keeping of the single institution in Britain where it is most likely to be appreciated.

Photos by Cris Fajardo

This article first appeared in  Campion Hall News no6 Hilary Term 2016