The series of 19 easel paintings referring to the life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola held in the Regional Museum of Querétaro were created by Miguel Cabrera, a celebrated eighteenth-century painter from New Spain and a favored artist of the Jesuit order, as he created countless works for its different churches.
The set of paintings was originally conceived to occupy the different spaces formed by the round arches in the lower cloisters, where the Royal College of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and Saint Francisco Xavier stood in the city of Querétaro, now known as Patio Barroco (“Baroque Courtyard”); since 1966, it has belonged the the Autonomous University of Querétaro.
During the first decade of the twentieth century, and as a result of the revolutionary events which had overtaken the country, the collection—together with other pieces from various religious sites—was moved to the Academy of Fine Art to become part of the artistic collection. The aim was to look after them and to protect them from destruction, as well as to spread local culture and to promote the Academy’s activities. A few years later, Germán Patiño, a protector and great visionary of the significance of culture—and founder of the Regional Museum in 1936—was successful in moving the majority of the Academy’s collection to this museum. Since then, the collection of paintings on the Life of Saint Ignatius of Loyola has continued to be exhibited there.
The Royal College underwent alterations in 1755, and Miguel Cabrera probably painted the works before this date so that they were ready to be hung on the opening day of the new building. It could be said that Cabrera based this series on the official biography of the Jesuit, written by Pedro de Rivadeneira, a contemporary of Loyola. As for the sketches, he was probably inspired by a series of 79 engravings referring to the early events in the life of the order’s founder. The sketches were done by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens and the engravings by the French artist Jean Baptiste Barbé. This Roman series was published for the first time in 1609 under the name “La vita beati p. Ignatii loiolae societatis lesu fundatoris” (“The life of blessed father Ignacio of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus”).
The purpose of the paintings was to encourage the Jesuit novices to live a life of spiritual dedication, example and work. We know that Saint Ignatius valued images as teaching tools because of the power of their impact, and when he died his disciples continued with this tradition.
Each scene takes up almost all of the semi-circular canvas. However, in five of the smaller canvasses, it is possible to see two scenes which capture continuous moments in the life of the saint, as if the artist intentionally made the most of the small space. The brushstrokes are extremely fine and applied onto a red background. The figures are depicted with great skill and it is possible to observe the sculptural quality of the expressions and postures of the characters represented.
The thematic scenes tell the story of the most important moments in the life of Saint Ignatius: from his birth, the injury he suffered to his leg during the Battle of Pamplona against the French, and his spiritual awakening through reading books, to finding his vocation and establishing the Society of Jesus, where the theme of the Virgin dictating the book of spiritual exercises stands out, as well as his travels to Jerusalem and Rome, his continuous preaching and rapture, and ending in the representation of his death.