A rare Mexican painting arrives at the Currier Museum
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A rare Mexican painting arrives at the Currier Museum
A distinctive work painted partly on shells connects the Americas to Asia and Europe.

MANCHESTER, NH.- The Currier Museum of Art opens an exciting new chapter in its collection with the acquisition of a Mexican painting from around 1700. Not only is it a powerful example of Spanish colonial painting, it is made in a mixture of techniques that blends the arts of Mexico, Europe, and Asia.

The Circumcision of Christ is delicately painted in oils on a combination of wood and thin pieces of seashell (called mother-of-pearl). The artist used the shimmering iridescence of the shell to enhance the costumes and setting. The original frame is no less extraordinary as pieces of shell are used to represent birds and flowers, while the gold design painted on a black background is directly influenced by Japanese lacquer.

“Mexico in the 17th and 18th centuries lay at the crossroads of the world,” says Alan Chong, director of the Currier Museum of Art. “The galleon trade across the Pacific brought luxury goods from Japan, China, and the Philippines to Acapulco on Mexico’s west coast. These objects were collected locally or shipped onwards to the rest of the Americas and to Spain.”

The frame of the museum’s new painting echoes the Japanese lacquer frames and screens, which were often used to depict Christian religious subjects. Mexican artists emulated the Japanese style but used different materials.

In 1700, New Spain encompassed territory covering present-day Mexico and much of the United States from Texas to California. Only a few hundred enconchado or shell paintings, were produced in Mexico City around 1700, and this example is especially rare because of its high quality. The painting joins a handful of comparable examples in the U.S. at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Hispanic Society in New York. At the Currier Museum, the work will be displayed in its growing collection of international Baroque art, and accompanies contemporary Mexican works such as the interactive computer display by Rafael Lorenzo-Hemmer.

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