Praying to Portraits: Audience, Identity, and Inquisition in the Early Modern Hispanic World (Penn State University Press, 2023), art historian Adam Jasienski examines the history, meaning, and cultural significance of a crucial image type in the early modern Hispanic world: the sacred portrait.
Across early modern Spain and Latin America, people prayed to portraits. They prayed to “true” effigies of saints, to simple portraits that were repainted as devotional objects, and even to images of living sitters depicted as holy figures. Jasienski places these difficult-to-classify image types within their historical context. He shows that rather than being harbingers of secular modernity and autonomous selfhood, portraits were privileged sites for mediating an individual’s relationship to the divine. Using Inquisition records, hagiographies, art-theoretical treatises, poems, and plays, Jasienski convincingly demonstrates that portraiture was at the very center of broader debates about the status of images in Spain and its colonies.
Highly original and persuasive, Praying to Portraits profoundly revises our understanding of early modern portraiture. It will intrigue art historians across geographical boundaries, and it will also find an audience among scholars of architecture, history, and religion in the early modern Hispanic world.
Jana Byars is an independent scholar located in Amsterdam.