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Why is the Statue of Our Lady Dressed?
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Dear Dr. Horvat,
Last May, my wife and I took a trip to Ecuador, and visited the Conceptionist convent. The Mother Abbess showed us around and let us take pictures, etc. Some questions I have, as I have only been aware of Our Lady of Good Success for about a year, are:
I hope you can help us, with pertinent information. We have a number of your books.
- When did they start putting clothing on her? I know that it is a Latin American custom, but do they ever show her as she first appeared?
- Has any of the paint been touched up?
- Why is it so difficult to get statues of Our Lady? I can only find one place and it is quite expensive. Autom and other religious stores do not have any. While we were in Quito, we found no stores that carried the statues, while almost all of them had The Virgin of Quito. We would like to promote her, but cannot afford to give out $100.00 statues.
God Bless you.
Dr. Horvat responds:
Dear Mr. K.C.,
I am glad to hear that you made a pilgrimage to see Our Lady of Good Success, and will try to answer your questions in the order presented.
1. The statue of Our Lady of Good Success in Quito, made by the Spanish-born artist Francisco del Castillo, was sculpted and dressed in the baroque style popular in Spain, Portugal and the Hispanic and Portuguese colonies from the late 16th century to the early 18th century.
The Italian Renaissance art had little impact on Spanish baroque sculpture, which was essentially an outgrowth of the medieval woodcarving tradition. Realism and intense attention to detail characterized the Spanish wood sculpture of this period. It was also common for sculptors, who wanted to create a sense of Christ’s and the Blessed Virgin’s physical presence, to make life-size images, often richly dressed in garments and adorned with gold and jewels.
Our Lady of Guadalupe and the original Our Lady of Good Success in Madrid
The tradition of dressing statues in Spain actually started in the Middle Ages. Statues like that of the Black Madonna - also called Our Lady of Guadalupe in Extremadura - or the original image of Our Lady of Good Success in Madrid (in the picture above), at first were wood statues. Later, moveable arms were added and the Christ Child was detached so that both statues could be richly dressed and receive elaborate wardrobes from the people.
This is also what happened with the Conquistadora, the first Madonna honored in the United States. Originally, she also was a simple and rather plain wood statue. Later, the statue was re-worked and given real hair, so both the Virgin and Christ Child could be dressed to satisfy the devotion of the people, who wanted to duly honor her and her Divine Son by giving them brocade gowns, jewelry and rich crowns.
By the 17th century, artists in Spain and the Americas were sculpting statues with arms and bodies that were intended to be dressed, as we see in the images of Our Lady of Sorrows in Guadalajara, Mexico or the famous Macarena statue in Madrid (below right)
Our Lady of Good Success in Quito was sculpted in this style: From the beginning, she was a life-size dressed statue carved in wood, standing 5‘9”, which was meant to create a sense of the Blessed Virgin’s physical presence among the Convent’s sisters and the people of Quito. We know, for example, that a Marquesa in Quito donated a beautiful jeweled broach to be fastened on the first gown of the Virgin on the day she was anointed and officially installed in the Convent, February 2, 1611.
2. The story of the sculpting of the statue of Our Lady of Good Success and its miraculous completion is told in detail in Volume II of The Admirable Life of Mother Mariana, and in a more summary way in my book Stories and Miracles of Our Lady of Good Success.
As you probably know, the artist had left Quito to find the best paints – unavailable there - for the last and most delicate step of the final coating of flesh paint. The night before his return, the statue was finished – painted and transformed – in an instant by the Archangels Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, along with St. Francis of Assisi, under the direction of the Blessed Virgin herself. To my knowledge, the statue has never needed to be retouched.
The artist himself attested before a notary that the final work of completion on the statue he found upon entering the Convent on January 16, 1611 was not the one worked by his hands. Everything had been improved – the sculpting itself as well as the painting and the color of the flesh. Throughout his whole life, he affirmed, he had never seen a skin color equal to that of the miraculous statue. It is something I am sure you and your wife noted on your visit to the Convent. The face of Our Lady continues to glow with a supernatural light.
3. It is very difficult to find a reasonably priced, lifelike replica of this statue today. One of the prophecies of Our Lady of Good Success was that this devotion would only become known at the end of the 20th century. So, there has not been much opportunity to mass produce cheaper statues, like those we find for Our Lady of Fatima or Our Lady of Lourdes.
Our Lady of Good Success has different dresses and jewels donated by the faithful
We would suggest you help spread the devotion by offering pictures of the statue, which we offer at TIA, or by distributing copies of the small book Our Lady of Good Success: Prophecies for Our Times. It is a short, easy to read introduction to Our Lady of Good Success and the most important prophecies of Our Lady that pertain to our days.
I hope this is of some help to you.
Marian T. Horvat
Posted February 1, 2011
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