Ex Votos

Ex Voto Paintings

Ex voto suscepto is generally translated as “from the vow pursued”, or “from the vow made”. An ex voto is an offering made as part of a promise to a spiritual personage in expectation of or in thanksgiving for an answered prayer.

Ex votos and Retablos

The influx of tinplate into Mexico in the 19th century fostered the development not only of the ex voto paintings but also of retablos, or paintings of Christ, the Virgin, and the saints for devotional use in the home. Among the common people in Mexico, it is the votive paintings that are usually called retablos, while the pictures of saints are typically called láminas. Generally, retablos were intended for the home and served as a focus of private devotion. Ex voto paintings were intended for a church and served to proclaim publicly the glory of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints.

Artists and Aesthetic Aspects

Most ex voto painters are unknown to us. However, two noteworthy artists are Gerónimo de León (active 1885-1915 in Jalisco) and Hermenegildo Bustos (active 1852-1906 in Guanajuato).

The artists of ex voto paintings manipulate space and time in the pictures. Different scenes and times occupy the same painting. For example, a scene of an injury on a highway and a scene of a petitioner praying to the Virgin in a church at a later date may be painted together.

Beginning in the early 19th century and continuing throughout the 20th century, most ex voto paintings were produced on tin. However, other surface media were also used. These examples include paintings on copper, masonite, wood, and cardboard, the latter with an attached plaster figure.

There are particular visual elements in Mexican votive paintings. First, hierarchical scaling is often used whereby the spiritual, or more important, figures, are painted larger than other figures. Contrary to the more subdued hues of the retablo paintings of saints, ex votos usually use bold, bright colors. Extra attention might be given to costumes and to interior spaces. Ex voto artists often include theater props (such as drapery) and stage sets in their designs in order to enhance the drama of the event.

Another characteristic of ex votos is the artists’ occasional attachment of other materials to the painting. In these “mixed media” ex votos, the artists might incorporate photographs or plaster images in their works.

Dimensions of the ex votos are traditionally recorded in inches—they are usually relatively small.

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viola moriarty

(American, b. 1958)
Modern Expressionist Painter
2012-13 Recipient of the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant

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